As the mania of Christmas has died down and the new year bells are upon us, I have begun working hard trying to squeeze in my gifted games for the year before being thrust back into work. Already struggling before the first proper boss in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and preparing myself for the weirdness of Control, I started to reminisce in my previous gaming-filled Christmases. A mere ten short years ago, I was feverishly ripping away the wrapping for my Xbox 360 Elite. Black, sleek and with a whopping 120gb storage. That festive holiday I sliced my way through the streets of Florence in Assassin’s Creed 2, was trigger-happy in the battlefield’s of Modern Warfare 2, and drifted round corners in Forza Motorsport 3. On the whims of the nostalgia, I began to ponder on my journey through games over the last ten years. While this isn’t a top ten, it is a brief recounting of my time with games in the last decade.
I have always been a fan of videogames, and post-2000 had at least played most of the consoles. Yet as I picked up the best designed controller in the world – seemingly destined to fit into my hand – and listened to the whoosh of the 360 startup noise, it was clear the Christmas of 2009 was my true introduction to the world of gaming.
Prior to booting up my 360, gaming for me was couch coop games like Spy vs Spy, Cel Damage and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith on the PS2. Games that me and my brother would play for hours on end, dying from laughter as we navigated slow-moving rockets through the narrow hallways of a castle ski resort in a 1v1 match in Die Another Day. I was never bought games like Grand Theft Auto, although I never knew enough to even want them. I was content, and still love to play small coop games like Overcooked or Gang Beasts to this day.
However, gaming in the 360 era opened my eyes, as it suddenly became something that wasn’t just within the confines of my house. It suddenly became something I felt everyone was talking about. People would discuss their reactions to Ezio Auditore’s family being executed, or the hilarious game of Mike Myers they had played on CoD the night before. I was suddenly a part of a conversation that I didn’t even know existed.
Gaming quickly became something I was certifiably obsessed with. While I was never a completionist, instead I was a horder of gaming experiences. I tried to play as many games as I could, scavenging the £5 or less bins, and even at a time capitalising on Game’s return policy, which allowed me to briefly own around ten games through a single purchase, due to their ten day return policy – which sadly but inevitably was altered. Luckily many places were more laxed about age restrictions at the time, so a simple altercation of my birthyear upon questioning was enough to dissuade any game store employee from turning me down from anything aged 16 and below – however the parents had to be dragged out for anything 18 rated.
Where previously my gaming tastes had been for inconsequential fun like Wario’s Smooth Moves or coop on James Bond games as mentioned, games like Read Dead Redemption, Bioshock Infinite and Mafia 2 felt like a natural next step as my gaming tastes matured. The first half of the decade was stuffed with story-based adventures full of complex and immersive stories, which as a fan of film came as a new medium and an absolute dream. One of the most important for me was The Last of Us. With a fresh Ellie Edition in my possession and my TV and PS3 in the boot of the car, I set up and played The Last of Us through an evening and an afternoon on a mass family trip to a quiet Scottish lochside village. This game didn’t just push, but shoved the limitations of what a videogame story could be. Mature, dark, dramatic, emotional, engaging – The Last of Us was many things, and done all of them to a masterful degree. Never had a game made me well up at all, let alone in its opening scene. I am grateful for this game, not just for my personal experience, but for the way it influenced the gaming industry and led to more games of its ilk. Ripples of The Last of Us were felt for years to come, and still are, but a new kind of game was about to pop up on my gaming scene, as I plugged in my new, shiny and very noisy PlayStation 4.
I had decided to hold off on getting a PS4 until around mid-2014, when it’s gaming library was beginning to beef up, and some promising games were on the horizon. One of those games was Destiny. Say what you may about its false promises, but this massively multiplayer sci-fi shooter seemed like everything I had ever wanted in a game. Yes its story was lacklustre and its mission structure was repetitive (it was definitely no Joel and Ellis tale), but this was the first big game that I had played that really pushed the online cooperative experience. Where before you were playing alongside your friends in CoD, or against in teams, you were playing with them in Destiny. Of course this had existed to a degree in the likes of GTA and Read Dead Online, but it didn’t elicit the same feeling of community that Destiny did. It was a game that I could play for a small amount of time or sit down for a 12-hour session. Its buttery smooth gameplay was elevated by the sense that you were working as a team with your friends in these awesome settings, fighting through hordes of enemies, on the hunt for some glorious exotic weapons and armour. For a while for me, getting a team of Guardians together for a series of strikes was one of the best things you could do in gaming. While this has seemingly lead to a marketplace that is stuffed full with the live-service model, to me it was a revolutionary type of game.
Yet it can’t be denied that was the beginning of the rise to the more worrisome part of the games industry. For the past five or so years words like micro-transaction and loot box have been synonymous with controversy. Developers or more commonly publishers, have eagerly tried to squeeze as much money out of our new favourite games and beloved franchises. As much of a fan as I was of Destiny, two years after its release was when it really felt like a full game – after paying another £65-70 on top if the base price. EA evenly famously touted that “single-player experiences” were dead, which the likes of Spider-man, Horizon: Zero Dawn and even EA’s own Jedi: Fallen Order have proven otherwise. As videogame budgets begin to surpass those of blockbuster movies, it has to be expected that developers and publishers are eager to do something to ensure that they make their money. Yet this monetisation is an ugly side to the industry, that was almost entirely the cause of my brief run and eventual abandoning of Destiny 2.
But moving on from the dreary and onto the immersive with the relatively new VR gaming. I managed to get my hands on a PSVR and on my first day I surrounded myself in the white and orange of the superb and blocky Super Hot, to the point that when I took the visor off I felt like the real world had great graphics. While the PSVR library is full of gimmicky “experience” type films, there are some excellent and unparalleled immersive experiences like Resident Evil 7, Beat Saber and The Tetris Effect. VR really break down the barrier between player and game. On the opening hour of Resi 7, I had to egg myself on to walk into the pitch black doorway to the spooky and dilapidated bayou-based mansion, knowing fine well the door would slam behind me. Alas it did, and what followed was a screaming fest, but a screaming fest that became one of the most immersive experiences in a game I have ever had. It is so easy to lose hours in these games without realising, but its often held back by your own ability to last. Eyes become strained and often movement melts your mind, but when you leap out of a window in slow motion, and look back firing your pistol in Blood and Truth, there is nothing quite like it.
I feel lucky to have become a gamer in such an evolutionary decade for games. It is a decade that has pushed what was technically possible, whilst also pushing boundaries on what a game can be. Masterfully told stories like The Last of Us and God of War simply didn’t exist to this degree in previous generations, and expansive and detailed worlds such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s The Continent or Assassins’ Creed Odyssey recreation/reimagining of Ancient Greece weren’t even possible. Moving into the next decade and the cusp of the next generation I feel more excited than ever as the gaming industry continues to grow and experiment. Hideo Kojima’s latest Death Stranding proves that we are reaching a stage where developers are further experimenting with the formula of games, and EA’s Battlefront 2 really highlights that they are finally beginning to listen to gamers’ needs.
Looking back at the last decade of gaming, it has become emblematic of many things for me. It is a way to lose yourself, becoming engrossed in immersive worlds and emotional stories. It is also something that brings people together, whether that has been hilarious screaming matches in Overcooked or coordinated teams in Blackout. Through the last decade videogames have become an undetachable part of my life, and I am bursting with excitement to witness what the next decade of gaming will hold.