Game of the Decades – 1990s vs 2000s vs 2010s

We recently wrote our Game of the Decade (2010s) article, which marks our third Game of the Decade article to date; 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. We thought it’d be a fun idea to pit the winners from each decade against each other. Which decade will reign supreme? Find out below!

Best Sound Effects

Game Title: SOMA
Release Date: 2015
Developed By: Frictional Games
Published By: Frictional Games
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac / PlayStation 4 / XBOX One
Genre: Horror

Unsurprisingly to most, the winner for Best Sound Effects goes to our 2010s winner, SOMA (2015). Don’t be fooled though, it was a close call with all three contenders. SOMA doesn’t have the positional accuracy of some of the best hardware accelerated games like Thief: Gold, our winner from the 1990s, but the sound effects quality makes up for it. All three of these games have incredible environmental sound effects, but SOMA’s meticulous attention to detail with virtually every object making a distinct, appropriate sound when interacting with any surface, combined with its excellence everywhere else including superior recording quality to anything from the 2000s and 1990s, makes it our winner.

Other Nominees

  • BioShock (2007)
  • Thief: Gold (1999)

Most Technologically Impressive

Some might think this would be a no brainer for the 2010s, but once again you’d be wrong if you thought so. In fact, we did not choose a winner for this. Unreal Tournament (1999), our 1990s winner, can easily be excluded from this discussion, so we would like to focus on our 2000s and 2010s winners: Crysis (2007) and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017) respectively. In short, while the latter has infinitely superior optimization and general rendering quality, the point we wanted to make here is that modern games tend to give up physics interactivity, dynamic lighting and shadows (in favor of static), and sound design compared to 2000s PC games.

Wolfenstein II is far from the most static game out there, but it still represents a huge step back in environment/physics interactivity from many 2000s PC games including our 2000s winner in Crysis, and also including one of its own predecessors, Wolfenstein (2009), the one Bethesda wants you to forget for some reason.

In fact, Wolfenstein II represents a bit of an improvement over its most immediate predecessors, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015) and Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) in this regard, but nevertheless it is a notable step back in physics interactivity compared to most 2000s PC shooters from Crysis to Wolfenstein to F.E.A.R. to Half-Life 2, but it’s not a horrible offender nor is its AI awful like most modern games (another area where 2000s games generally reign supreme).

So this is just some food for thought. Had there been a more clear winner, we would’ve happily given it this award, but as it stands we are not satisfied with the elements of gaming that continue to regress in the modern day.

Best Multiplayer Shooter – Versus

Game Title: Crysis Wars
Release Date: 2008
Developed By: Crytek
Published By: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC
Genre: FPS

This was a very close call between our 2000s and 2010s winners, but we had to give it to the former, Crysis Wars (2008). This and our 2010s winner, Natural Selection 2, along with each of their predecessors of course, demonstrates one of the most intelligent and strategic versus game modes of all time. In Crysis Wars it is Power Struggle, something we have written about a lot here. It’s like a more advanced version of Unreal Tournament 2004’s Onslaught mode.

Crysis Wars also comes with well over 20 maps, some of which won the Intel Crysis Mapping Contest for the first game, so those are user made maps that were added for no extra cost. The main reasons Crysis Wars wins this award over Natural Selection 2 are the fact that Crysis Wars has a more diverse scale of gameplay; while Natural Selection 2 constitutes genius map design (the game would work no other way), all the maps are quite similar in scale, every match is quite similar in scale. Crysis Wars is not like this, with different Power Struggle maps having different scales resulting in different levels of vehicle gameplay (some maps have no aircraft, some maps have no aircraft or armored vehicles at all, some have everything enabled), some maps work best with 32-48 players while others work best with 16-20, and for good measure Crysis Wars also has two other game modes although they’re nothing special (Instant Action and Team Instant Action, which are Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch respectively).

Crysis Wars is also more moddable than Natural Selection 2, and has produced some of the finest multiplayer shooter mods of all time, which says a lot considering how games like Unreal Tournament 2004 had Killing Floor and Red Orchestra as mods for it. While Crysis Wars doesn’t have as many total conversion mods as UT2004 (the only famous one is Mechwarrior: Living Legends), the Server Side Mod stands out as one of the best mods of its kind, greatly expanding the capabilities for server customization and server admins, bringing a new scripting framework, new anti-cheat, new remote admin capabilities, tons of new console commands and other features adding new game mechanics and the ability to spawn objects in real time.

It’s too bad this genre is in the decline and is now mostly limited to pay to win battle royale/looter shooter games. Crysis Wars, Natural Selection 2, Unreal Tournament, and so many others mostly in the 2000s and even the 1990s were really inventive and content rich unlike today’s games.

Other Nominees

  • Natural Selection 2 (2012)
  • Unreal Tournament (1999)

Best Multiplayer Shooter – Co-op

Game Title: Arma 3
Release Date: 2013
Developed By: Bohemia Interactive
Published By: Bohemia Interactive
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: FPS / Military Simulator

If you knew the previous winners we had for this award, then it should be no surprise that the winner is our 2010s winner, Arma 3 (2013), since the 2000s winner was Arma 2 and Arma 3 is one of those game sequels that’s actually a universal improvement. Arma 3 is 100x improved over Arma 2 mechanically, and now has a similar amount of official content when counting all expansions for both games combined, but then on top of that Arma 3 has more mods and you can port lots of content from the first two games into Arma 3. There’s no point in playing Arma 2 these days.

Both of these games won because they are some of the most content rich FPS games of all time, with some of the best designed mechanics allowing you to play them as a tactical squad based shooter, or you can play as a battalion commander or even division commander and play like an RTS, because the games are so amazingly scalable. The attention to detail put into the FPS mechanics is rivaled only by combining the features of Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (2003) with the Rising Storm/Red Orchestra games, but then the vehicle simulation of Arma 3, going from quad bikes to cars, APCs, tanks, helicopters, planes, VTOLs, small boats, submarines, drones, and more, is all incredibly detailed. It is nothing like Battlefield, it is closely related to actual simulation software after all.

All of this combined with Arma 3’s new 3D mission editor means you play your own way. The only real limiting factors are its terrible optimization, only really using a single CPU core despite this game still being supported in 2020, and also the AI which is some of the worst in existence. Those are pretty severe limitations, but not enough to ruin the experience completely. Still, improvements are absolutely necessary and we can only hope Arma 4 makes them happen.

Other Nominees

  • Arma 2 (2009)

Best Quest Design

Game Title: Planescape: Torment
Release Date: 1999
Developed By: Black Isle Studios
Published By: Interplay Entertainment
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: RPG

This award goes to a single player story driven game designed around immersion whose quest design is truly remarkable and creative, transcending generic repetitive typical game quests like “Go here and shoot everyone and then return to me”. So this award naturally excludes a lot of excellent shooters such as DOOM, and it naturally includes a lot of RPGs but other types of games as well. This was an extremely difficult decision, but we went with Planescape: Torment (1999, remastered in 2017 as Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition which is the one to get), our winner for the 1990s. The combination of every quest being unique and meaningful to the story through one theme or another, the quests not holding your hand (making you figure things out on your own – so much more fun and rewarding) and being so nonlinear, its role-playing potential, and its unparalleled writing quality just make it impossible to deny. The quest design of our 2000s winner, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is no weaker when comparing its best quests, but it does have some weak, generic side quests.

Other Nominees

  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001)
  • Pathologic 2 (2019)

Best Story, Writing Quality

Game Title: Planescape: Torment
Release Date: 1999
Developed By: Black Isle Studios
Published By: Interplay Entertainment
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: RPG

Educated gamers won’t be surprised to see that Planescape: Torment (1999, remastered in 2017 as Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition which is the one to get) wins this award, beating out the best written games of the 2000s and 2010s as well. We have analyzed it in depth and it’s really a once in a lifetime game, but hopefully not a once ever game because that would be sad. It is the most genius video game RPG ever designed, demonstrating better than any other how RPGs can be used as a brilliant storytelling medium with so much power. Its role-playing works in tandem with its writing quality, as you play as an amnesiac character with a unique gift and can use this gift for good or bad or however you wish.

One thing RPGs tend to sacrifice is character development for the protagonist since they’re usually just a blank slate that you, the player, make up as you go along. But with Planescape: Torment having you play as an amnesiac character, they were able to keep the blank slate design while also writing a rich backstory that’s really the backbone of the game’s plot and the entirety of its story. The only role-playing that happens to be sacrificed is that you can’t change your race or gender, you are always a human (or so it would seem) male, but other than that a blank slate. Yet at the same time, Black Isle Studios managed to write the deepest protagonist in video game history, which is quite a feat on its own but so much more genius to do so in such a thorough RPG.

Planescape: Torment has so much thematic depth paired with exquisite attention to detail with its art design and visual motifs (the Gothic inspired architecture in this one of a kind setting and the motifs of red/blue colors throughout), its characters (everyone you can hold a conversation with is a unique character with distinct personality, speech, motives, hardly any other open ended game can honestly make this claim), its dialogue and unique dialect spoken throughout different locations of the game, its masterful descriptive writing, it is just brilliant on every level.

It’s like some very talented author managed to acquire a complete understanding of RPGs and what they’re capable of, and then proceeded to write the perfect story to leverage the strengths of a video game RPG, to create a true all-time great.

The 2000s winner for Best Story/Writing Quality, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (2007), was a spiritual successor to this game, brilliant in its own right but not quite the same level as Planescape: Torment. I doubt anything will dethrone this game.

Other Nominees

  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (2007)
  • SOMA (2015)

Best Racing Game

Game Title: Project CARS 2
Release Date: 2017
Developed By: Slightly Mad Studios
Published By: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PC / XBOX One / PlayStation 4
Genre: Racing Simulator

This was a close call between the 2010s winner and 2000s winner, but we ended up going with the 2010s winner, Project CARS 2 (2017). iRacing will always be the most feature rich racing simulator, but we dislike the subscription model and Project CARS 2 is more well rounded due to its road car selection.

Other Nominees

  • iRacing (2008)
  • Gran Turismo 2 (1999)

Best Stealth Game

Game Title: Thief II: The Metal Age
Release Date: 2000
Developed By: Looking Glass Studios
Published By: Eidos Interactive
Platforms: PC
Genre: Stealth

This award boiled down to the two most significant pioneers in the stealth game genre, the first two Thief games. Either one is a feasible choice, but we had to go with the second, Thief II: The Metal Age (2000) as it is more consistent than the first game. The first one is brilliant for most of it, but towards the end you’re often running and being chased rather than exploring and stealing, and those missions feel a bit rushed.

Even Dishonored (2012) was not enough to dethrone the first two Thief games, which are more brilliant in design. The immaculate level design with plausible yet clever secrets placed all over, including hidden areas only accessible on higher difficulty modes, along with how mission objectives change depending on your difficulty mode, it is a ballsy design that is more thorough, more rewarding, and more fun. Exploration and interacting with the environment is key in the Thief games; when you find a secret for the first time, you really want to pat yourself on the back. Dishonored never achieves this, though it doesn’t try to.

There are so many nooks and crannies in the levels of the first two Thief games, which really complement such a stealth game. Again, nothing comes close. And they are atmospherically one of a kind, some of the most original steampunk settings ever with weird magic, creepy crypts, and weird but awesome technology throughout the second game. So many missions in both games qualify for the “Best stealth game mission of all time” title. Thief II has nice missions to briefly change up the pace, such as one mission where you have to stealthily follow and observe someone, which leads into a really gripping mystery.

Other Nominees

  • Thief: Gold (1999)
  • Dishonored (2012)

Best Horror Game

Game Title: SOMA
Release Date: 2015
Developed By: Frictional Games
Published By: Frictional Games
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac / XBOX One / PlayStation 4
Genre: Horror

This was a very tough choice, but we had to go with SOMA (2015). It was very closely contested between this and System Shock 2 which is one of the best survival horror games ever made while having even more content-rich level design, whereas SOMA is not even survival horror. But the writing quality and narrative design of SOMA are too brilliant, and when it comes to greatest horror game of all time, SOMA’s narrative design is a bit more important to me than System Shock 2’s gameplay excellence, but again it’s close and we can easily see both sides of the coin here.

SOMA’s gameplay-driven narrative design and the themes it presents are so thoughtful and unsettling from a horror perspective, and while it has very simple survival/stealth gameplay, the enemy design is at least constantly changing so the gameplay changes slightly with it. The only thing SOMA really lacks is a VR version.

Other Nominees

  • System Shock 2 (1999)
  • Penumbra (2007-2008)

Best Shooter

Game Title: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. NLC 7 Build 3.0 and by extension S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
Release Date: 2018, 2007
Developed By: NLC Development Team, GSC Game World
Published By: NA, THQ
Platforms: PC
Genre: FPS / Survival Horror

So this one is like a trick question. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) won this award for the 2000s, and a total conversion mod for it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. NLC 7 Build 3.0 (2018) won for the 2010s. We choose either of these over the 1990s winner, Half-Life, but at this point we’re pitting Shadow of Chernobyl against a mod for Shadow of Chernobyl. NLC 7 Build 3.0 wins easily, it’s like an infinitely superior version of Shadow of Chernobyl, but at the end of the day that’s basically just a win for Shadow of Chernobyl, plus Shadow of Chernobyl has so many other awesome mods worth playing.

Other Nominees

  • Unreal (1998)

Best Turn-Based Strategy Game

Game Title: Total War: ATTILA
Release Date: 2015
Developed By: The Creative Assembly
Published By: Sega
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: TBS / RTT

We did not have an award here in the 1990s as the genre was too new at the time, so it came down to 2000s vs 2010s, and two Total War games specifically. It was close, and each has their own pros and cons, but we had to go with the 2010s winner, Total War: ATTILA (2015). This decision would outrage many fans of certain Total War games; note the careful choice of words here, I did not just say “Total War fans” since so many people play only one setting in Total War, so they stick to SHOGUN 2, Rome and Rome 2, Empire, Medieval and Medieval II, etc.

But when you look at all of the Total War games, some accomplish more than others. Medieval II wins in moddability by far, and has some gameplay improvements over all others such as its trait system, but the out of the box unit diversity of ATTILA, its model detail, combat detail and the individual combat animations, the inner city battles, the improved strategy layer via family tree and attrition, and most of all the AI, are why we chose ATTILA. The AI is so bad in Medieval II that it really damages the experience when playing against them. Still, we don’t like that Medieval II does have noteworthy improvements over its successors – we want to see universally improved sequels, and while ATTILA is that compared to some Total War games, it is not that compared to Medieval II. Nothing is, but for us the pros outweigh the cons for ATTILA.

Other Nominees

  • Medieval II: Total War (2005)

Best Real-Time Strategy Game

Game Title: Crusader Kings II
Release Date: 2012
Developed By: Paradox Development Studio
Published By: Paradox Interactive
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: Grand Strategy / RTS

Oh boy, subjective preference is the real deciding factor here. Our winners for the 2000s and 2010s (we didn’t include this genre in the 1990s) are completely different types of Real-Time Strategy games. They try to do completely different things, both succeed, and both have amazing mods. But since the actual strategy component of our 2010s winner is more genius, we’ll give this award to that game which is Crusader Kings II (2012). The strategy gameplay is so incredibly rich and complex that this game, along with others from Paradox, earned their own subgenre of Grand Strategy. Both this game and the 2000s winner, Warcraft III, also have absolutely mind blowing mods made for them.

Other Nominees

  • Warcraft III (2002)

Best RPG

Game Title: Planescape: Torment
Release Date: 1999
Developed By: Black Isle Studios
Published By: Interplay Entertainment
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: RPG

Unsurprisingly our 1990s winner beats out every other decade – Planescape: Torment (1999, remastered in 2017 as Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition which is the one to get) wins this award. All three winners have a similar level of role-playing, but Planescape: Torment has by far the best writing of the three, which says a lot since all three have stand-out writing. And that writing quality is used in such a way that makes the role-playing so much more potent as mentioned before. I predict no RPG will ever dethrone this one.

Other Nominees

  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Complete (2006-2009)
  • Fallout: New Vegas (2010)

And that wraps up our choices. As usual we don’t attempt to do an “overall” game of the decades award since comparing all these games from all different genres is just too much. If we tally up the winners here, we have 7 winners from the 2010s, 3 from the 2000s and 3 from the 1990s, but don’t let those numbers fool you. The more important numbers would be to look at the number of nominees for every award in each Game of the Decade article. The 2000s was really the strongest decade by far, most of those awards were so hard to choose due to a nearly overwhelming amount of masterpiece games in most categories. While for the 2010s and even 1990s, it was quite a bit easier for us to choose. Let us know what you’d pick for these awards in the comments below!

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