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The Best Games of 2010

The Best Games of 2010 (photo)

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As far as video games go, 2010 might well be remembered as the year that controversy clashed with quirk. Or the 12 months that downloadable content went from novelty to staple. Or the 52 weeks where indies energized the mainstream. Or the 8765.81 hours of the iDevices‘ video game ascendancy. No matter how you slice it, it was a cycle of change, excellence and surprise. The games below symbolize all of that and more, depending on how you experienced them.

10. Osmos HD
Hemisphere Games

Osmos HD” rises head and shoulders above so much of the games content to be found on the App Store because of its thoughtful mechanics and abstract presentation. Though the action of avoiding absorption by other cosmo-microbe lifeforms can get frantic, the game still manages to impart a level of zen-like calm. The bigger screen real estate of the iPad makes the HD version of Hemisphere’s creation even more beautiful and the ambient trance soundtrack transports players to blissed-out interactive nirvana.

9. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Ubisoft Montreal

Coming just a year after “Assassins’ Creed II” notched even higher success than its predecessor, everyone assumed that “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood” would be a quickly churned out cash-in to strike while players were still in love with main character Ezio di Auditore. What we got was an ambitious new vision of multiplayer interaction and gameplay tweaks that incorporated Farmville-style mechanics to make medieval Rome feel more alive. “Brotherhood” does more than make you feel like a bad-ass; it makes you feel like a strategic bad-ass. Bellissimo.

12172010_Heavy_Rain_First_encounter.jpg8. Heavy Rain
Quantic Dream

Long hyped as an edgy digital drama, the Playstation 3 exclusive promised a watershed moment in video game storytelling. It may not have been all breakthrough, but the “Heavy Rain” experiment proved successful as far as decompressing and adding emotional heft to a narrative told through a video game. Doing mundane things like brushing teeth or playing catch with a virtual boy-child may have felt odd, but the sudden absence of those things created a void that powered the gameplay. Yeah, the actors’ performances may have lacked polish, but ultimately the game’s true impact came from its interactive possibilities and the way that they hewed to and diverged from reality.

7. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Nintendo

In a year where the company mascot notched a 25th anniversary of starring in games with “Super Mario” in the title, the little plumber starred in an adventure that exemplified how Nintendo earns such vibrantly loyal fans. “SMG2” felt vibrantly alive and quivered with ingenuity at almost every turn. Everything in the game — from the partnering with Yoshi to the power-ups and the puzzle-like structure of the worlds — felt considered and easy to understand. Factor in the automatic assist of the Super Guide and you get a title that nearly everyone can finish despite its burly difficulty. Experiences like the one “Super Mario Galaxy 2” delivered are the reason Nintendo design guru Shigeru Miyamoto gets compared to Walt Disney. Play and learn, everybody else.

6. Shank
Klei Entertainment

The triumph of “Shank” comes from synthesizing its inspirations — the Tarantino oeuvre, Silver Age comic books, anime cartoon stylings and old-school, side-scrolling beat-em-ups — into its own awesome entity. Klei’s effort felt finely tuned, with tight controls and clever balancing, and discretely crafted, too. Once players started, they knew they weren’t going to grind out 30 padded-out hours of diminishing returns on the downloadable title. You were going in to execute sharp, fast and beautifully gory vengeance, throwing your skills against these enemies as hard as you could. It’d leave a mark, “Shank” would, on calloused thumbs all over and on the gaming landscape at large.

12172010_MassEffect2.jpg5. Mass Effect 2
BioWare

More than anything, the acclaimed Canadian dev studio’s sci-fi sequel showed that they understand the meanings of the word “epic.” It’s not a wideshot of an orange sun cresting over a ringed planet, or a cutscene of a gritty gun battle. Those things can be part of it, but the trick of epic starts small. The individual choices that you make as customizable series hero Commander Shepard — how to broker disputes, who to help and who to hurt — feed into bigger events that create continuities unique to a player’s personality. Leveling up certain abilities over others, the thousands of dialogue choices through branching story paths, the team members you sleep with or the ones who die in that final, fateful suicide run… when you look back at it all, you see not just the epic, but how it came about. All that’s left is to salute the ones who make it.

4. Alan Wake
Remedy Entertainment

Video games have yet to get that perfection’s overrated. Most high-profile games sandpaper over the inviting, pebbled textures of idiosyncrasy, leaving audiences only glossy, hollow experiences to play through. Not Remedy. Not “Alan Wake.” The hero of the Finnish dev studio’s psychological thriller makes you cringe with his desperate running, tortured writing and a brittle and neurotic affect. But those shortcomings snag you (maybe because they’re familiar?) and pull you along into a dark forest of metatext where metaphor becomes weapon. “Alan Wake” didn’t have to be perfect. It chose to be interesting instead. Here’s hoping other dev studios follow Remedy’s lead.

12172010_SuperMeatBoy.jpg3. Super Meat Boy
Team Meat

Love is pain. And, in “Super Meat Boy,” love is jumping over giant saw blades and getting the finger from a fetus in an exoskeleton. The love’s readily apparent in the indie darling’s execution, from the way Team Meat shouts out other small developers to the way that it amps up the difficulty of a traditional platformer’s challenge to a fetishistic degree. “Super Meat Boy” wants you to wrestle it to the ground, pin it down and give it a bloody kiss on the lips. That’s the only love it understands and, thankfully, it got demonstrations of such from millions of gamers across the world.

2. Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar San Diego

Nobody knew what might transpire when Rockstar hightailed it out of the city in hot pursuit of the sunset. Gone were the radio stations and killing sprees, replaced by friendly howdys and herb picking. As a result of all that, the reluctantly reformed John Marston — questing under duress to round up his criminal cohorts — came across as more multilayered than anything else the NYC-based games juggernaut has produced so far. And the world he moved through felt wistful, like a dangerous postcard from times past. The trademark Rockstar violence didn’t disappear; it just got seated in a lonesome, surprisingly spare gameworld. As I wrote back when the game came out: “‘Red Dead Redemption’ happens just as the Old West is dying out. Electric lights dot the small towns you travel into and new railroad train lines are laying down the foundation of the infrastructure that we take for granted a century later. The people in the game know the world is changing and that awareness seems to charge the urgency of their words and actions: One last chance to get even, to get rich or to get glory.”

1. Limbo
PlayDead

I only ever played “Limbo” once, but it’s haunted me ever since. The downloadable game’s stark visuals pulled me in like no other game this year and the nonexistent narrative added a level of interaction, because my brain kept trying to imagine scenarios that would explain the things happening in the game. Was this heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Why am I enjoying these funny, horrid deaths so much? Is there any thread to stitch the experience together to anchor it in plausibility? “Limbo” offered me no answers; nor did I want it to. So many games pack in overblown features and sturm-und-drang presentation in an effort to impress players, but it was PlayDead’s dedication to minimalism in “Limbo” that makes it one for the ages.

Honorable Mentions: “Halo: Reach,” “Dance Central,” “World of Warcraft: Cataclysm,” “Minecraft,” and “Bit.Trip Runner”

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.

SAE SDCC 2017

SDCC OMG

Stan Diego Comic-Con

Stan Against Evil returns November 1st.

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Photo Credit: Erin Resnick, GIFs via Giphy

Another Comic-Con International is in the can, and multiple nerdgasms were had by all – not least of which were about the Stan Against Evil roundtable discussion. Dana, Janet and John dropped a whole lotta information on what’s to come in Season 2 and what it’s like to get covered in buckets of demon goo. Here are the highlights.

Premiere Date!

Season 2 hits the air November 1 and picks up right where things left off. Consider this your chance to seamlessly continue your Halloween binge.

Character Deets!

Most people know that Evie was written especially for Janet, but did you know that Stan is based on Dana Gould’s dad? It’s true. But that’s where the homage ends, because McGinley was taken off the leash to really build a unique character.

Happy Accidents!

Improv is apparently everything, because according to Gould the funniest material happens on the fly. We bet the writers are totally cool with it.

Exposed Roots!

If Stan fans are also into Twin Peaks and Doctor Who, that’s no accident. Both of those cult classic genre benders were front of mind when Stan was being developed.

Trailer Treasure!

Yep. A new trailer dropped. Feast your eyes.

Catch up on Stan Against Evil’s first season on the IFC app before it returns November 1st on IFC.