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Into The Spine’s Games of the Decade: Part 3

Aliens, robots, and popularity.

2019 is coming to an end, so we thought on sharing short stories and anecdotes surrounding our favorite games from the decade. In this third part, we take a look at the chosen games by Natalie, Carl, Kyle, Aron, and Nic. Don’t forget to also check out Part 1 and Part 2 in case you missed them.

Natalie – NieR: Automata (2017) 

To live is to constantly suffer for the sake of those sparse moments of happiness in between; to try to make the most of every day for little reason other than the fact that we all run out of days someday; to be plagued by intense despair as we look at the world around us yet find those shining glimmers of hope that keep us from easily giving up on it all. NieR: Automata, a game in which there are no human beings, speaks to the loving, lonely, extraordinary, futile, and meaningful human experience in equally brilliant, heartbreaking, amusing, disturbing, and comforting ways. It is a sublime masterpiece that speaks to the truths of the world in ways things so rarely do. This single game made me feel some of the most deep despair and reassuring hope I have ever felt; it is unforgiving in its brutality, yet somehow just as reassuringly gentle. If you haven’t played it yet (which you should), all these contradictions will make sense once you do — after all, isn’t life full of contradictions? When my days run out, I know I’ll remember this game and all it has made me think and feel. It’s things like this game that, despite the daily hardships, make the human experience worth it.

Carl Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (2013)

Okay, I know this isn’t gonna be the first game that pops into your mind when you think of great games, but I feel this game is a great example of what encapsulates this last decade of games for myself. I watched its trailer and had my expectations low. I was in an adventure mood and was sick of big titles letting me down. The story was on par, so neither good nor bad. Once I got past the tutorial is when Oceanhorn got me hooked. The game play was challenging and fun. Straightforward and never trying to overreach. I played 7 hours before a 100% completion and I loved every second. I’ll never replay it, but I don’t need to. I enjoyed it fully. Games don’t need to add complicated mechanics, massive replayability or have wide targeted audience. Sometimes when we strip a product back to the basics we can see what made them all great in the first place.

KyleFinal Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2013)

In 2010, Final Fantasy XIV was a monument to mediocrity. Chastised by critics for being a terrible MMORPG, and damned by fans as the worst entry in the series. You would have never guessed that was the case when Shadowbringers, the game’s latest expansion, is being hailed as one of the best of 2019. My oh my, how things change, eh?

Final Fantasy XIV is all about perseverance. From tales of the Dragonsong War, where Dravanian youth unite to undo their forebear’s sins to players shouting battle tactics at each other during a boss fight, that tenacity refuses to be expunged from Eorzea’s weave. The through-line makes sense considering how hard  Square-Enix hard to work to swing the pendulum back in a favorable direction. I’ve been with the game since 2014, and it’s staggering how Final Fantasy XIV has been able to hold my attention for this long whilst only getting better over time. I’ll never forget all the incredible characters, the satisfying narrative, and all the life-long friendships made along the way. There’s also catbois.

Aron Fortnite (2017)

Fortnite is a sensation. It’s a game that’s home to millions of people that want to connect with their friends, even if they just build weird cubic structures and snipe at each other from hundreds of virtual yards away. It’s a competitive scene where one 16-year-old kid from Pennsylvania won more money than most other people will make in a lifetime over a handful of matches in New York. It’s a social media platform where every change, just like a new format on Twitter or Facebook, causes an uproar that’s more ubiquitous than those of other gaming communities. It’s a tournament with the largest monetary prize pool in esports and a type of entertainment that holds the record for viewers on Twitch. Hundreds of thousands of people watched a blank screen for hours when Epic Games pulled Fortnite’s plug in a publicity stunt for Fortnite 2.0 (what’s basically a regular update with a lot of content) in October. I don’t think you’ll see quite the uproar over an update to League of Legends (actually, you might, but that came out before 2010). 

That’s not to brush aside the severe crunch that Epic Games developers go through to make sure Fortnite gets its weekly content overhaul running smoothly. That’s not to ignore the idiotic personalities that have said and done inappropriate and offensive things, spreading misconceptions that harm real people, and still rise to fame and make millions on Twitch while playing Fortnite. Those things are still problems that need to be talked about and addressed.

Fortnite is an average game when you compare it’s critical and fan reception to something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (which won game of the year award from many outlet’s in 2017). It owes it’s fame to a perfect storm. The battle royale genre was pioneered elsewhere in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and H1Z1, Fortnite just stole that thunder. Epic Games put out more updates, new skins, mechanical overhauls, and addressed bugs more often (partially through unethical labor practices) and attracted more players. It’s entry price tag of $0, for people who have access to a PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, or a smart phone only helped a snowball pick up speed. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins (who could have been any number of tireless streamers looking for success), after spending 45 minutes in the hair care aisle at Target, could have risen to fame by playing a different game on Twitch. Fortnite just happened to be part of what Blevins calls his perfect storm. The two just happen to be in the right place at the perfect time.  

I think it’s fair to say that Fortnite, alongside everything that’s happening with it that help make it newsworthy, made a ubiquitous cultural impact with a vibration that’s still shaking through the esports industry, Twitch, and the games industry. Plus, I have, like, 500 hours in it. 

NicXCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)

I fell out of gaming around 2010 and didn’t pick it up again until somewhere around early 2013. Around that time I played three titles which, combined, cemented a devotion and appreciation that hasn’t really let up since. Dark Souls and The Witcher series (I played 2) have already been covered, but the third, and I’d still say the most important, was XCOM. 

I was familiar with the series already, albeit through a distant though still potent memory of being a fascinated six year old watching my dad play UFO: Enemy Unknown on an unwieldy pale grey monolith of a PC. 2012’s XCOM retains the tension-laden fog of war and the potential lethality of even the most unassuming alien, but it also neatens up some of its influences’ baroque frustrations. It’s extremely easy to learn, and feels faster and more immediate than it actually is thanks to some smart and sleek presentation. 

It’s a damn fine strategy game, dripping with more atmosphere than a poorly wrung out atmosphere-towel. It’s also the game that really taught me how rulesets, percentages, systems and mechanics can sometimes tell stories just as engaging as those penned by meaty human fingers. This is a terrifying prospect for writers everywhere, but it’s also what got me good and properly obsessed with games, and thereby ruined my life forever. Cheers, XCOM.

By Jordan Oloman

Geordie journalist with a passion for old-school adventure games and everything melancholy. Bylines at IGN, Kotaku, PCGamesN, Playboy and more. @JordanOloman

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