Best of the Decade: Games That Mattered

Every so often, a game comes along that is so revolutionary that it makes other games look amateurish by comparison and changes how all future games are designed. After much deliberation, these are the 10 games we voted as the most important of the decade. If your favorite game just didn’t make the list, prove us wrong at www.umwbullet.com.

1. “Half-Life 2”
Sure, it may seem like a run-of-the-mill first-person shooter to those who haven’t played it, but those of us who have know better.
Immersion is a big buzz-word in the game industry these days, but there really is no other word to describe what “Half-Life 2” tries to do. From graffiti-covered walls to leftover weapons ammunition, there are an insane number of small but important clues to figuring out exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.
Speaking of which, players may or may not ever see one of the most memorable parts of the game: a man in a blue suit and tie who is never named in the series, but is credited as “Gman.” Somewhere in every level, you might catch a glimpse of Gman, on a TV monitor, on a bal cony, or through cracks in a fence. Much like the oppression from which humanity still suffers, his presence is always felt in the game’s universe.  –Marshall Schulte

2.  “Grand Theft Auto III”
“Grand Theft Auto III” is not just one of the most important games of the last decade, it’s one of the most important games of all time.
It single-handedly started the open-world sandbox genre, letting the player go anywhere and do anything. If you wanted to jump a car onto a roof, have a shootout with the cops in the middle of downtown, or beat an old lady to death with a baseball bat, you could do it. It made all other linear games feel claustrophobic—it’s gotten to the point now that it’s a little jarring to even play a truly linear experience anymore. “Grand Theft Auto III” excelled at creating a city that felt alive and had near-infinite re-playability. It mixed together the best elements of different genres to create a game that, at the time, felt like the pinnacle of video game design and radically changed how all games after it were designed.   –Tom Ella

3. “Halo: Combat Evolved”
Only a few titles in the history of videogames have single-handedly justified the purchase of a brand new console. When Nintendo splashed into the gaming industry in 1985 with the Nintendo Entertainment System, a small title known as “Super Mario Bros.” came packaged inside the box. The title became one of the best selling videogames of all time, Mario became the face of gaming, and the rest is history.
Just as Mario contributed to the phenomenal success of Nintendo’s console, “Halo: Combat Evolved” did the same for the Xbox. The game was the number one reason (and arguably the only reason) to buy Microsoft’s debut console.
Essentially, “Halo: Combat Evolved” did everything right, meshing great controls, smart, dynamic enemies and allies, superb graphics, and frantic game-play into one cohesive package, paving the way for every first person shooter that would later try to copy it.  –Missak Artinian

4. “Braid”
Much like the original “Super Mario Bros.,” “Braid” makes good use of the standard jump button, with an added twist: the player can go back in time to fix mistakes. Sure, many games have done this before, but “Braid” gives you no limit on how many times you could do this.
With these basic game-play principles in mind, the game is really a puzzle game.
However, I’d be committing a crime if I didn’t talk about the plot element of the game. You play as a guy named Tim who is trying to save his girlfriend from something that is left unclear. Before each level, you get philosophical, dream-like things about events in Tim’s life, and the main goal of the game is to get puzzle pieces and put them together to form a good memory in Tim’s life about his girlfriend. Essentially, the game-play elements are intrinsically tied to the plot and overall message of the game itself. If anyone wants to say that games aren’t art, I’d point them towards “Braid.”  –Marshall Schulte

5. “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker”
“The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker” has the sole honor of being the only Zelda game released on the Nintendo Gamecube.
The largest and most controversial aspect of “Wind Waker” was its graphical style. Unlike previous 3-D Zeldas, Wind Waker utilized a technique known as cell-shading.
This method results in a more cartoonish style, one that has greatly divided audiences. Many hated the more kid-friendly artistic direction, arguing that it actually took away from the ambience and tone of the game, while others saw it as a fresh take on the Zelda series. In any event, the cell-shaded style had a profound impact on the series, as it has spawned two direct sequels, (an extreme rarity in the Zelda canon) in “Phantom Hourglass” and “Spirit Tracks,” and the “Toon Link” was even featured as a secret character in Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.” –Bryant Matera

6. “Resident Evil 4”
Ever since the original “Resident Evil” scared every Playstation owner with flesh-hungry zombies and mutated dogs, the formula for the cherished survival-horror series ultimately remained the same: fixed camera angles, limited ammo, and awkward controls.  However, three sequels, one prequel, and a whole slew of spinoffs later, the series took a turn for the better with “Resident Evil 4.”
Gone were the days of aimlessly walking into walls due to flawed controls. Gone were the days of getting lost behind a zombie who’s in the way. Gone were the days of running out of ammo and, subsequently, any hope of survival.
“Resident Evil 4” is a game that has set the standard for every other action game that has followed. With great, moody environments, satisfying weapons, a great story, and epic boss battles, “Resident Evil 4” is by far one of the best experiences that the last generation of consoles had to offer. –Missak Artinian

7. “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind”
I don’t think I’m overstepping my boundaries when I say that “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” was a watershed moment for open-world RPGs.  At the time most RPGs were missing a sense of cohesion— the confidence in that you could take any piece of the game and have it represent the entirety of the product.
From the beautiful orchestral score, to hundreds and hundreds of books written just for the game, to having the ability to enter each and every house in the world and chat with the neighbors, “Morrowind” was a fully realized world.  The game was just oozing with all kinds of cool atmosphere that was compounded not only by the great soundtrack but by the unique “lived-in” art style while still staying true to the fantasy aesthetic.
All of these elements just came together to make a world that was not fragmented in its vision in the least, producing a game that didn’t sacrifice content for a world that you can lose yourself in.  “Morrowind” helped jump-start the open-world RPG by showing the industry that a fully realized 3-D world was indeed possible, with the effort to back it up.  –Evan Fritz

8. “Metroid Prime”
No one thought it could be done.
When Nintendo outsourced the “Metroid” series to Retro Studios and announced that it would be a 3-D, first-person game, fans were skeptical at best but mostly outraged, thinking “Metorid” would become a standard shoot-em-up game and lose all of its atmosphere and deliberate pacing. They were wrong.
“Metroid Prime” was released to insane critical acclaim.
With atmosphere rivaling the “Half-Life” series and a focus on looking around your environment, this was and still is the truest 3-D adaptation of a retro game ever. It was one of the first first-person games to not focus on the shooting but what was going on around the shooting, convincing players to search every nook and cranny of Tallon IV, the strange, alien world Samus was abandoned on, if only to get one more upgrade.  –Marshall Schulte

9. “Dead Space”
“Dead Space” took the foundation laid by “Resident Evil 4” and made everything leagues better, setting a new benchmark for all horror games.
While “RE4’s” Leon Kennedy was fumbling around in his attaché case to make space for more items, “Dead Space’s” Isaac Clarke had his suit project an impressive in-game display of items for easy management.  While Kennedy was awkwardly running away from zombies because he was too uncoordinated to move and shoot at the same time, Clarke was strategically dismembering his predators.
“Dead Space” was scary because it had amazing sound design that knew exactly when to hit you with soft noises in the distance or blast you with bass to punctuate an intense moment. “Dead Space” was scary because even when you were safe, you never felt that way. –Tom Ella

10.  “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time”
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is a model that every game developer should follow when adapting a 2-D game into 3-D. The original series on MS-DOS and Macintosh combined exploration, platforming, and puzzle to form one of the most challenging, yet satisfying experiences of the time.
Ubisoft brought back the elements that made the original so captivating, added a complex and compelling story, and successfully captured the look and feel of the Prince’s universe in breathtaking 3-D graphics.  Ubisoft also added some new mechanics to the game-play. Just as the title suggests, time is a major component in the game.
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is a game that not only lives up to the original, but in many way surpasses it by keeping many of the tried and true elements that fans adored and by adding new and innovative mechanics that positively add to the experience.  –Missak Artinian

Bullet Writers weigh in on other deserving candidates.

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9 Comments

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    This is a good list, but there’s a noticeable lack of God of War.

  2. Before I get into any disagreement with the order or what games where selected, I must state, fix after sentence periods on the online version. (editor, I am calling you out on this one, delete the ‘enter’s after sentences prior to posting online)

    Ok, to begin, many of these games are solid but there are much better options, and genres that were completely left out. I will try and bring some of these games into the following disapprovals and strong suggestions of much better options.

    For a puzzle game you have Braid, ranked at #4, which in of its own right was a very well constructed game with interesting game mechanics, but didn’t really introduce anything new outside of removing a cap for the number of times you can make mistakes, in so doing reducing the game from a challenge of skill and ability to a game of who has more time on their hands to fix their mistakes. A better choice in my opinion is Lumines which brings the concept of gameplay created music. The concept of the game is strictly create any interconnecting pieces of 4 or more color matching pieces touching each other, you drop a piece much like the game of Tetris, you move the piece along the top before dropping some unique sound occurs, creating music for the game, this occurs with a simple background beat to play off of with every changing backgrounds and new music scheme coming into play about every 5 minutes, which either speeds the gameplay up or down. That is just the free-form mode, there is also puzzle modes as well as other game options, and its for the PSP or you can get it on XBOX Live. To put it simply, one of the best investments in gaming money and time that I believe that I have made, this game also shatters all other puzzle games with its fast pace and unique style. Since Braid is also a arcade game on XBox Live another great choice with its unique humor and interesting play styles and awesome artwork a great game that change the face of multiplayer games that are side scrollers is Castle Crasher, and with two difficulty settings with every turn their being something new or unique this game throws out many hours of game time with a great feel.

    Following the fist comment I must state that God of War considered one of the greatest games for the PS makes me a little sad, while also having a great lack in Forza Motorsport, which is one of the greatest racing games, forcing fans of Gran Turismo to change so many things within the game, due to how easy it was to slip in either as a huge car junkie and play with all the tweaks and modifications that you can do in real life, or as someone that just is interested in racing games it has an experience that no other racing game has grasped yet.

    Even the article on Dead Space discredited RE:4 from being on this list, and yet it is lower on the list, interesting… If you are looking for a new experience that is better then RE:4 I suggest going with Left 4 Dead (and soon to be Left 4 Dead 2, which playing the demo beats out many different FULL GAMES and it is to be released within the decade!) takes the concept of zombie hordes that awesome games like Dead Rising and Resident Evil throw out put a few twists and speed up the gameplay 10 fold, forcing players to make quick snap decisions and with a Co-op, Counter-op, and “horde” mode gameplay this game takes weeks to get bored of, especially since it introduced the idea of Horde mode, with Gears of War (Which I also see a great lack of on this list) and even Halo taking the idea! This game truly has changed the face of gaming.

    Another unique game that created an entirely new genre that has come out in the decade is Katamari Damacy and its follow up games of Katamari Forever and Beautiful Katamari. This game throws players a curve ball, with an excellently executed game where you as the son of a “god” has to re-create planets and stars. This game should be somewhere on this list.

    Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (wouldn’t Oblivion be considered better?) is an excellent choice, but an even better choice would be Fallout 3 with its amazing story line not short of plot twists and post apocalyptic world creates in an area we all know well, Washington DC and a large number of its suburbs. The plot line follows a different branch of history in the 1950s with nuclear powered cars and the government waging war with China versus the USSR. This experience is created off the same engine as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but takes it to a completely new level and with scares that you would never expect, I hope you like Deathclaws and Giant Scorpions and “Zombies”!

    The one game on this list that is most controversial is by far The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, using a technique that is almost a decade old being used in several “Gundam” and other Mech-warrior style games have used. Creating a kid-friendly world using Cell-Shading, has thrown many fans for a loop and has created a hate fan club for the game, its spin-offs, and its general divergence from the love of Ocarina of Time as well as its earlier games that everyone has worshiped over the years and made Zelda (or Link) a household name. I personally believe that a game that has so much direct hate still has the possibility to stay on this list, but with so many great games that have changed the face of the ENTIRE gaming world, that this one should be passed up for some of the alternatives such as Ninja Gaiden also openly referred to as the most difficult game or any of the Ratchet & Clank games, which even with their cartoony feel bring in an older audience with just as much worship and love!

    Another great series/concept that has been introduced in the last 10 years is Guitar Hero (or even the concept of the Wii) should be added to or have a place in this list!

    I understand that their is a list of over 200 games, but be aware of all the greatest including the “cult” following ones that bring interesting techniques and everything that other games haven’t had and are almost forced to add that feature or become none existent as many great series have!

    (sorry if I sound like an ad, it is just that it adds to the value)

  3. Thomas Ella says:

    Hey, thanks for your comment. I suppose I’ll just address each game you mentioned in turn.

    In regards to Braid, I would ask if you’ve played it. If that game is lacking something, it isn’t challenge. Many of those puzzles are so mind-bending and complex that if you’re hoping to merely rely on a time travel mechanic to save you, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Time travel is just one of many insane abilities that Tim has in that game, and they all combine to make one of the most interesting and revolutionary puzzle games of all-time.

    As for Lumines, I’ll agree that that’s a fantastic game, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table either. To reduce it to its fundamentals, it’s basically just another Tetris spin-off. Mind you, it’s a really, really good game, but for this list, we wanted to focus on games that had an impact on the industry or set a new standard to judge other games against, so Lumines doesn’t really fit that bill. Regardless, a more apt comparison to Braid would have been Portal, another fantastic, thought-provoking puzzle game.

    Castle Crashers I haven’t played, but have watched and read enough about it that I feel confident in saying that while it looks like a good enough game, it really doesn’t seem appropriate for a list of the best games of the decade. Just an initial impression though.

    I don’t particularly understand your comment about God of War. Are you saying it shouldn’t be considered one of the greatest PS2 games or that it deserves a spot on this list?

    Forza Motorsport has made some pretty great strides in making racing simulation games more accessible and adding a lot of great features, but ultimately, it’s working on the same foundation as most other racing games. Another great game, sure, but it just didn’t seem right when compared with other ground-breaking games.

    As for the RE4/Dead Space issue, it needs to be reiterated that this is a list about importance and impact, not just quality. Therefore, since Dead Space essentially wouldn’t exist without RE4, and RE4 had such an overall huge impact on the industry, RE4 is higher. Dead Space is on there for progressing that genre in a meaningful way and for significantly raising the bar for all horror games.

    Left 4 Dead is yet another game that is amazing on its own, but for the focus we were going for on this list, it just didn’t fit. Co-op has been done before, so it just doesn’t really mesh with the overall theme.

    Gears of War absolutely fits the bill for this list since it set the standard for third-person shooters the way Halo did for first-person, but its absence is mostly the result of having to make difficult decisions. Some games that we wanted to have recognized just didn’t make it. For instance, I fought hard to get God of War on that list, but when it comes down to it, making a top ten list is all about making tough cuts. There’s just not enough room for everything you’d want.

    I’ve played a lot of Katamari Damacy in my day, but I don’t really see where it would fit on either a “most important” list or a “highest quality” list. It’s a good game with a lot of style and quirky humor, but it’s not something I would ever want to see on a list with truly mind-blowing games like GTA III.

    We actually had the debate about whether to put Oblivion or Morrowind on the list, and Morrowind won out simply due to the theme of this list. Again, it’s all about being an important, somehow ground-breaking game. Therefore, we decided to go with Morrowind instead. Fallout 3 also got mentioned but since it follows so closely in the footsteps of games like Morrowind and Oblivion, we felt like having Morrowind on there was sufficient.

    In regards to Wind Waker, that game should be known for more than just its art style. Beyond having one of the most iconic art styles in gaming history that will age beautifully, it totally revitalized a beloved, but stale franchise (Zelda really is the same game over and over). It breathed new life into the series and is one of the best Zelda games of all-time. The art style is polarizing, but not the only reason it’s on there.

    All I’ll say about Ninja Gaiden, to be polite, is that being unfairly hard doesn’t guarantee quality. As for Rachet & Clank, they’re good platformers and shooters, but if you want them on there for a cartoony art style that appeals to adults, any Mario game seems more relevant.

    Guitar Hero is another game that I wish we could’ve gotten on there, but we only had ten spots and therefore, couldn’t fit every game under the Sun. Love that game, and I think Rock Band is another one to consider in that vein.

    Believe me, we debated for awhile about which games should be on it and we’ve all got personal picks for what we each feel should’ve made it on there. But that’s just how a top ten list works. You can only pick ten games. There are always games you wish could’ve been on there, but it’s not that easy. Making a top ten list is always extremely difficult.

    Again, thanks for your interest and hope that can help clear up some confusion.

  4. I still strongly believe that some of the games chosen where inferior to several other choices.

  5. Ryan Marr says:

    Greg,

    I’m unsure as to what you mean by “after sentence periods.”

    Ryan Marr
    Entertainment Editor

  6. Phil says:

    I think Greg is referring to “after-sentence carriage returns.” These are new paragraphs, so there should be a carriage return there…possibly two carriage returns would be in order. It’s really a stylistic decision, it could easily be left as is.

    As far as the games go, I think this is a pretty good list as far as I know. I was particularly pleased to see Prince of Persia, which is my all-time favorite franchise, included. I find it hard to believe, though, that GTA 3 introduced the first “sandbox game”…what about SimCity, or the Sims? I guess GTA probably pre-dates the Sims (not sure), but I would have liked to see some of Maxis’ games represented.

    Here is my top five list, feel free to tear me to shreds for it:

    1) Civilization IV

    This is the best strategy game I’ve ever played. While I usually play Civilization II these days because it doesn’t make my (really lame) laptop overheat and shut down, Civ 4 introduced all kinds of great new features that really deliver a solid gameplay experience. Civ 3 was nice, but a little too easy.

    2) Super Smash Bros Melee

    This is the most fun multiplayer fighting game I have ever played. I know, people are going to object that Halo is better…but personally, I hate shooting games. Maybe Halo is about more than shooting people, but I don’t intend to find out. I didn’t like the Wii version of Smash Bros…the rhythm of the game feels off somehow.

    3) Prince of Persia – all of them, though “Warrior Within” was a little weak.

    Anyone remember “Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame?” Classic.

    4) Soul Calibur II

    A fantastic fighting game. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that my little sister could beat me at it.

    5) The Sims

    I think I read somewhere that The Sims is the best selling PC game of all time, though I might have made that up. It was based on a pretty risky concept–make a game based on the day-to-day activities of ordinary people–but the risk seems to have paid off. I never got into Sims 2 (I don’t like it when I die of old age), but Sims 1 wasted probably at least 100 hours of my life.

    The above list isn’t a reflection of games that mattered in general, but just a reflection of games that mattered to me.

  7. Missak Artinian says:

    Greg, thanks for being critical with our list. I think it’s important to note that like any other list of this nature, the games we ultimately honored were a product of a very heated, strongly contested, and inevitably subjective debate between six staff-writers who happen to love games not just as a pastime, but as an art. With that said, many of the games that you mentioned (specifically, Forza, Fallout 3, and God of War) were considered, but unfortunately didn’t make the final cut after a systematic and fair voting process.

    It’s quite easy to dismiss our list based on your personal favorites and taste. However, if an outside observer had to evaluate the objectivity of a list devised by an individual or by a group, the group’s list would undoubtedly have more value, especially if the group’s decision was based on a democratic and more or less scientific system.

    Marshall, I also commend you for taking the time to thoughtfully defend our list.

    Well played, gentlemen.

  8. Marshall Schulte says:

    I HAVE COME TO DESTROY MISSAK’S SARCASM.

    As everyone has said, it’s hard to make a top 10 list. Hell, it might’ve been hard to make any sort of list. I don’t really think the order of games on this list really means much, as all of them did some great things, and were great games in and of themselves.

    Shadow of the Colossus is my biggest regret, as I think it’s one of the best, most meaningful games ever made.

    Personally, I was surprised that Windwaker got on the list. While a really great game, I don’t think it did anything new other than the cel-shading. I guess there was sailing, but that was kinda boring, plus it had that arbitrary Triforce hunt in it. All of which I forgave when I fought the final boss, which was HOLY EPIC. Just, well I think it’s in God of War territory with regards to this list.

    If there are two games that should’ve made it on this list though, it’s Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft. Guitar Hero, while not creating a genre, completely justified it’s existence with it’s immense popularity and accessibility, with past music/rhythm games either being ludicrously difficult or very shallow affairs. World of Warcraft is a game that 11 million people like so much they pay to play $15 every month so that they may continue playing it. Once again, it made a genre, the MMORPG, that was very difficult and unforgiving, into an extremely accessible, fun game.

    Thoughtfully DESTROYED.

  9. Joe the Plumber says:

    Gregory O’Brien-Blondino “their”

    is actually spelled there

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