As a big fan of 'cosy catastrophe' science-fiction the marrying of one of my favourite literary genres with the city builder format was pretty much a match made in heaven for me. Crucially although a dark tale, Frostpunk is never entirely a bleak one, and the satisfaction of creating a little safe space for your poor, beleaguered survivors of the new ice age is one that warms the cockles of your heart.
9: World of Warships
I was sceptical going into this. I'm not a fan of online grind-a-thon shooters with stores beckoning you to spend your hard-earned money on fancy skins and pay-to-win better weapons, but World of Warships surprised me with its excellent mechanics, dedication to (well-almost) historical accuracy and a system where you can spend money on perks and ships, but you don't feel at all cheated or suffer any real disadvantage if you decide not to. It's a simple game to pick up but a tough one to master. Brilliantly though all the tactics and strategy that won the real battles of both world wars work in this one. Resist the temptation to broadside, angle your ship to reduce your profile and increase effective armour thickness. Each class of destroyer, cruiser, battleship and carrier has an important role to play and once you get to the mid-tier ships you're having such fun that you don't feel the grind. It looks lovely too.
8: Total War: Shogun 2
The Total War series by CA reached its zenith strategically, tactically and artistically in this installment set in one of my favourite historical periods - that of Sengoku Jidai in 16th century Japan. The art style is beautiful - to the point where I honestly think the graphics will never age. The important part of Shogun 2 is that unlike other Total War games, you cannot steam-roll. The AI is trickier and there are all sorts of plausible economical and diplomatic reasons why you cannot just build and maintain giant armies. I tried latter games in the Total War series but always quickly returned to Shogun 2.
7: Saints Row IV
Whereas the latter GTA series believes that mature, edgy storytelling should force the player to sit through the tedious bumblings of repellant people endlessly punch-clocking their depressing career of a life of crime at the behest of even more repellant idiots, the latter Saints Row series lets you be drive an angry tiger around a city in a convertible, sign legislation as Mr or Mrs President to 'Fuck Cancer', take place in drive-along singalongs and make movies with the villain you've just vanquished as co-star. Saints Row 3 was excellent, but Saints Row 4 with its inspired Matrix / B-movie alien invasion parody gives friend player probably the most giddily silly and fun adventure in PC FPS gaming to date. When evil but plummy RADA-voiced giant alien Xiniak used his new powers as Earth's overlord to read his favourite Jane Austen books on the alien equivalent of PBS radio, the game completely had me.
Hell, think I'll reinstall this now.
6: Night in the Woods
The most evocative point-and-click I've ever played. The simple art style reminds me somewhat of Art Spiegelman's Maus, with the animal headed humans living out their days in a rust-belt Pennsylvanian town that's fallen on hard times. Mae is a compelling character, an amiable drifter incapable of personal responsibility but who loves her friends. All the characters in the game feel real, their interactions true. The story and dialogue is warm, witty, sad and shocking by turns. If Night in the Woods was a TV show, it would be peak Roseanne with occasional guest directed episodes by David Lynch. Waking up, heading out and walking into town up the hill with the cars chugging past, leaves falling and warm morning light bathing the 2D townscape as the beautiful soundtrack plays never gets old, either.
5: Cities Skylines
Thank God for Colossal Order. The inept release and crushing let-down of the fatally flawed and unambitious SimCity was one of the most singularly depressing events of the last decade. What a joy and surprise then for this Finnish studio to seemingly appear out of nowhere and to release a city builder that rivalled - and perhaps even surpassed - the great SimCity 4. Intuitive, endlessly moddable and with a vast, vast, vast land-mass to build real-honest-to-goodness cities in, Cities Skylines triumphed where SimCity ignobly failed. Pop on YouTube and you'll find amazing true-to-life cities from such creators as Infrastructurist, Strictoaster and Two Dollars Thirty - cities that look real in screenshot. Thanks to the huge Steam workshop you can accurately build cities Japanese and Thai, Russian and American - you can even build the characterless British new-towns with a Greggs on every corner. The only flaw I can find in Cities Skylines is that the base game art-style is remarkably ugly at times with the building design, which is why I can only judge it a satisfying game when heavily modded. Happily modding is a breeze.
Oh, and the fake radio adverts are bloody hilarious and make me grin every time.
4: Animal Crossing
Oh where would we be this year without Animal Crossing? If a game was ever more needed, and more well-timed, I cannot think. Animal Crossing is a laid-back delight and perfectly paced. Gradually building up my little wooded small-town island and making it just-so felt truly rewarding and the way it neatly folded you lovely Beexers into my isolated pandemic life was a minor miracle. It's not a perfect game. It really needs just a touch more landmass, a little more discovery and variation in the character's dialogue - and it is far too fond of repetition. And yes, some mornings you feel obliged to log on and do your chores rather than feeing you really want to. But to nit-pick is to ignore what it does so superbly well. Animal Crossing is a wonderful escape. Nook Inc. you sure do make great getaway packages!
3: Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It's odd. I thought for sure that Red Dead Redemption 2 would be the be-all-and-end-all of open-world gaming. I do love the period it's set in after all, and it looks astonishing. It really is a great game. And yet half-way through I somehow lost interest. Zelda on the other-hand... oooh. This is my first Zelda game and oh-my-god. The world is vast. The art-style stunning. The freedom and spirit of discovery and invention you feel as you bound across the world, bopping monsters on the head with your crafty use of the environment and physics... ooh, it's good. It has a great sense of place too. The melancholy post-apocalyptic Hyrule balances perfectly the bleakness of a land ridden with monsters and an ancient evil, but the joy of warm communities and fun people just getting on with a life less ordinary. I've been playing this almost non-stop the last month. I am the least punctual hero ever. Sorry Zelda!
2: American Truck Simulator
Something tells me I may have mentioned this game a couple of times. American Truck Simulator gives you the freedom to drive the superbly realised highways and byways of West-Coast America. California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Idaho and now Colorado... thousands of miles of road to explore and a new surprise around every corner. American Truck Simulator is truly a voyage of discovery and the atmosphere is truly immersive. The rain beating down on my cab as I drive through the wide green Pacific Northwest valley on the approach to Medford, the trucks ahead throwing up spray, radio tuned into the real-world local stations, cab rocking gently with a heavy load round every corner with one eye nervously on the fuel gauge... what a quiet rush. Each newly released state somehow tops the last and despite the last-gen graphics there is at times a feeling of really being there that is at times uncanny, the relentless verisimilitude building and building until you suddenly have an eerie feeling on a middle-of-nowhere intersection that you truly are someplace else. Superb.
1: The Long Dark
Ultimately it couldn't be anything else. I always ultimately return to The Long Dark. I love it so much I now own it both on PC and Switch. The Long Dark is set in a near-future alternate-world Canada where the world's economy collapsed a few years ago and communities became more and more isolated. You fly out to a remote lightly-populated island called Great Bear at the behest of your ex-wife who is carrying medical supplies for someone sick out there. On the way your plane is knocked out of the sky be a sudden and possibly apocalyptic coronal mass ejection event, where a solar flare knocks out all electrical devices in a replay on the great Carrington Event of 1859, writ large. Making your way through largely abandoned small mountain towns and wilderness, helping the odd survivor, your goal is to survive and find your wife. Simple as that. However the carefully thought-out lore, simple but breathtaking visuals and a real sense of being there evoked through careful pacing, unshakeable survival logic and one of the greatest aural soundscapes in a game ever makes for a game that you can, well, live out a second life in. The survival mode provides endless opportunity for living a quiet life in abandoned farmhouses, mountain caves, forest watch-towers and small island retreats. It is a supremely relaxing game at times, and at others completely terrifying when the wolves are running. The Long Dark has helped my anxiety by providing me an alternate place to live for many-a-year now, and I can't wait to see what the next two episodes of the series brings. Forget your concerns about the game still being a work-in-progress, there's more on offer here already than most games out there.
There's nothing quite like The Long Dark out there, and it does almost everything so perfectly, and with such a personal vision, that for me it is my favourite game of the decade.
So there you are, that's my list. But I have to say if Hades continues the way it's been doing these last few weeks it may be a strong future contender for a revision of this list!