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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

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

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

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”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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