Just when you thought all the lists were done, baybay! Yes, the internet content machine definitely loves it some listmaking, and here we have yet another opportunity to quench the thirsts of people who demand things be ranked numerically — kinda funny to think about it when you realize how much people hate review scores.
For me, it’s still crazy to think about life in general and how it’s transpired this decade. I graduated college, discovered I liked playing rugby, got in shape, got back out of shape but at least still in better shape than in 2010, took a career path that I would not have expected in a million years, lived in five different countries, backpacked through many more, and through it all videogames were kinda the only constant. Always had ’em around, always played them in my spare time. Camping in Nepal? The 3DS was there. Training in Cambodia? Thank God for Steam.
I thought a lot about what a ‘Top Ten Games Of The Decade” would look like. It’s hard! There were a lot of killer titles released in the last decade, and I commend my fellow GC writers for taking the time to compile theirs. There’s some really compelling arguments in those. One guy actually put Deadly Premonition on a list with the word “Best” in the title! So while kudos should be granted to my fellow GameCritics, I cut out the fat because while getting to ten games was hard, getting to one wasn’t. The very second I started pondering this list, there was one bonafide lock which made it my #1 choice by default. Does the fact that the best game of the decade released just ten months into the decade speak ill of the years that followed? Absolutely not. It just means we started the show with the showstopper.
Let’s cut to the chase: the best game of the decade is fuckin’ Vanquish, and I will hear no argument to the contrary.
…Okay I’d at least be willing to hear arguments to the contrary, but I will hear no such debate as to what the best feeling game of the decade was.
When it comes to games, I’m very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I want a game to play well, I want it focused, I want it polished, and I want as little detracting from the overall experience as possible. In short, don’t waste my time.
Vanquish is eight hours of the tightest, smoothest, most liberating combat I have ever experienced. There’s a lot to the core movement and numerous systems to pay attention to, but once it clicks, it’s butta. Straight butta. I can count on two hands how many games I’ve actually completed multiple times, and Vanquish leads the pack with around ten playthroughs.
Vanquish is in rarefied air of such films like Robin Hood: Men In Tights and Shaun Of The Dead where it’s essentially a parody that is also better at doing the thing than the thing it’s making fun of. In this case, it’s a double middle finger to the cover-based shooters that defined the era and to the woeful trend of Japanese companies trying (and mostly failing) to “Westernize” their releases. Shinji Mikami along with the team at Platinum Games sat down after (probably) being told by Sega that they wanted a Gears Of War of their own and said “ohhh ok. So they want a third-person cover shooter, huh? WELL WE’LL GIVE THEM ONE”.
Sure, one can play Vanquish like a traditional cover shooter… If you’re a goober. Why do that when you have rockets literally attached to your ass that let you slide through levels at ludicrous speed? Vanquish is a game where one is meant to always be on the offensive, butt-sliding into the thick of things, slowing down time to shoot grenades flying in mid-air, striking cool poses, and blowing endless waves of robots to bits. They put Gears Of War, Bayonetta, and DoDonPachi in a blender, then set it to puree.
Vanquish is a game best played on Hard, where balancing the cooldown on the AR rocket suit becomes vital while jetting around and using the best Bullet Time ever. Protagonist Sam Gideon is hyper-vulnerable to attack and will likely die if he ever lets himself overheat, and death on higher difficulty settings means losing valuable upgrades to weapons, so the game punishes in a way that makes one really not want to die. In this sense, Vanquish is like ballet — it is graceful and beautiful when performed well, and a slip-up is catastrophic.
In 2017, Vanquish reached its full potential when a PC port allowed us to play the game at an uncapped framerate in 4k, and very few projects have ever benefited so much from such added fidelity. In a game where precision and movement are so vital, the jump from 30fps in 720p on their original consoles to this was a true revelation. More butta. All the butta. In early 2020, the game will launch on modern consoles with 4K60 support on pro models, and then it will qualify for the best game of the decade again.
Another thing Vanquish is exceptional at is taking things that nobody liked circa 2010 and making them awesome. This is best exemplified with quite possibly the finest Quick Time Events ever. They are seamless in their execution, the button selection for these moments make total sense, they never feel forced, and the player is rewarded by seeing some of the most outlandish, absurd, and blissfully silly takedowns — Things like flying into the air, twisting around missiles, grabbing one, then sending it back into the chamber to blow up the arm that launched it is just a small sampling of the spectacular things Sam Gideon does while hammering the X button. Nothing in this past decade defined the concept of ‘power fantasy’ like Vanquish.
As the industry has grown, videogames have grown with it. Things like What Remains Of Edith Finch, Gone Home, Spec Ops: The Line, and The Stanley Parable have all pushed boundaries while changing the way we look at not just how videogames play, but also how we can feel about them. This is inherently a good thing.
With that said, I like games that are stupid. Real stupid.
Metal Gear is my favorite franchise because it is inherently stupid-ass anime nonsense, but even with that stiff competition, Vanquish might just offer the most gloriously stupid plot. Sam Gideon is the quintessential dumb jock snarky videogame protagonist, and his equally dumb sidekick Robert Burns (featuring Steve Blum in his most Steve Blum performance ever) spend the entire game being dicks to each other while spouting insanely contrived one-liners. At the end there’s a betrayal that both makes zero sense, and I knew was coming. In a nutshell, we kill all the future Russian space robots, punch future Communism in the dick, and then a future stand-in president shoots herself in the face for no apparent reason. I love it. This game is a monument to “Good Stupid”, and it’ll put a big dumb smile on your face for the duration.
Finally, Vanquish is the only game I can think of released this decade with a dedicated button to have Sam stop everything, pull out a cigarette, and take a drag while basking in the violent glory surrounding him. Oh, and the cigarette can be used to draw enemy fire. If that ain’t Game Of The Decade material, I don’t know what is.
The key aspect to remember after reading all this is ‘game’. There were more important things released this decade, titles with more interesting settings, games with more content, and works that became more important touchstones to influence future releases. But, there was no better videoGame with a capital G than Vanquish. I can’t think of anything more focused in its design and that adheres to its basic philosophy than this one. It doesn’t do everything a videogame is capable of, but what it does, OHHHHH man, does it do well.
“Fun” is a dirty word here at GameCritics, but that’s what Vanquish is: Fun. So much of it.