The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Best of the Decade: Games That Mattered

7 min read

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

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.