Games of the Decade: Notable absences
Burnout! Advance Wars! TimeSplitters!
To mark the end of the 2010s, we're celebrating 30 games that defined the last 10 years. You can find all the entries in the Games of the Decade archive, and read our thinking about it in an editor's blog. Meanwhile, here's a little something extra.
It's been a wonderful decade for video games, and no messing. But not everyone has been invited to the party. Here we're taking a few minutes to remember a few of our most notable absences of the last ten years.
This should have been the decade for TimeSplitters. Cruelly canned for being too comedic a shooter without a serious, gruff bloke to bung on the box, this franchise's death dates back to a time when the only shooter on the menu was forced to grow a beard to suit a suit's idea of manpoints.
TimeSplitters' charm - its bizarre roster of alien, monster and monkey characters, the personality which filled its story campaigns and endlessly entertaining multiplayer modes - can be seen in the many franchises which have come along and inevitably filled the void it left behind - Fortnite, Overwatch, Apex.
There have long been whispers it might return, and an even-longer-hope a fan revival might someday materialise. But I wonder if it has now been away too long, the strange and very British niche it once carved out now filled by bigger fare - games which all owe a debt to Free Radical Design's creation.
It doesn't really feel like Advance Wars has ever been away, of course. Its clockwork battlefields are so tactile and beautifully designed that they feel timeless. But amazingly, it's been over ten years since the last instalment, and spiritual successors like Wargroove really don't cut it.
The tragedy is twofold. Firstly, Advance Wars would be perfect for the gaming world of today with asynchronous multiplayer and all that jazz. Secondly, Advance Wars Dual Strike was filled with funny little innovations, including a very basic real-time mode. I would love to see where these experiments would have led. Yes, Fire Emblem is wonderful, but sometimes only a Medium Tank will do.
Age of Mythology
I think in pointing out that Age of Mythology's been missing for the last decade - nearly two in fact - I'm also talking about that whole family of strategy games that seems to have up and disappeared. Age of Empires 3 was 2005, the last proper Command and Conquer was 2010 and by most accounts wasn't great. Part of the floor has just fallen out from under the RTS, over the past 10 or 15 years, even if games like Company of Heroes have admirably clung on.
Age of Mythology, though, stands out among all of those because it's just wonderfully arcadey. Bright and silly and simple, without a care for intricate balance or any obsession with a minute two rush. When genres fall away, you lose more than just the staples, basically. You lose the quirky stuff on the fringes, too, and so often that's where a genre's at it's best.
Every car game that doesn't allow you to ram your enemies off the road kills me a little bit. I sidle up for a nudge, expecting time to slow to that gorgeous gluey drawl, expecting sparks to stiffen in the air, and nothing happens. Burnout has been gone for a decade! This is an absolute tragedy.
It is not all bad, of course. Three Fields Entertainment has been breaking Burnout down into its constituent parts for the last few years, and I've loved the games that have resulted from this. But if it were possible to draw the original team back together, give them an enormous budget, and work out where they should take Burnout post-Paradise? Well, that would be something.
As seemingly every other Japanese role-playing game continued to see sequels every few years - even the infamously absent Breath of Fire eventually saw a mobile and web-based MMO - I was secretly hoping Game Arts's long-forgotten Grandia would be next.
Instead, it was left to languish for almost the entirety of this decade - until the surprise of Switch and PC remasters of the first two games this summer.
At the time I waxed on about what makes Grandia special, from its tremendous battle system to those long, brilliant, often dizzying dungeons, and barebones as these ports were, it was a reminder few other games captured that same spirit of adventure.
It also proved someone, somewhere hadn't forgotten about Grandia either - and gives me some hope the next decade will be more favourable than the last.
Does Fable belong on this list? Fable 3 was out in 2010, and since then there have been bits and pieces, including the cancelled and much-missed Fable Legends. But for a long time we haven't had a core Fable game. A funny RPG, sure. An RPG about Britain, fine. But more than that an RPG that said that nothing was more important than the self - that the ultimate adventure lies in simply being alive, and being who you want to be.
In Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, you help the chickens of Morning Land defeat the evil crow army, which wants to cover the world in an eternal night. You do this by finding eggs, which you can grow in size by rolling over a fruit. These eggs can be hatched to reveal a variety of items and helpful animal friends. You can also use the eggs to traverse the landscape, bouncing up pyramids or over lava, and flatten any crow who dares cross your path.
This is a game that is completely unafraid of its own silliness, instead simply trusting you to accept the existence of pirate chickens. The graphics ooze charm, helping each new area have a distinct feel, making the game a joy to explore. (Expect for one particular level in the Circus Park, which I am not going to talk about.)
Billy Hatcher has always felt like it deserves a sequel and not just because I miss the cute seal-hedgehog hybrid, Richie. It has this Saturday morning cartoon atmosphere, where you can jump from one bizarre adventure to another. There are also so many other weird places for chickens to inhabit, such as a swamp or the moon. Plus, the theme tune is fantastic.
Beyond Good and Evil
Beyond Good and Evil is coming back, of course. I have real hopes that the glimpses of something lavish and galaxy-spanning that we've been getting here and there will eventually turn into reality. But in a funny way I sort of miss the Beyond Good and Evil 2 that we will never get - the sequel that followed hot on the first, that shared its same basic scope and dreamy sense of a single place.
This was a game that fit into one world - okay and a bit of nearby space. Within that, it had something very special, I think. From the lighthouse to the canals and archways, this was a European adventure, but also an adventure in local-ness. It was about saving a world rather than discovering a new one.
I'm excited to jet off for the stars in a game that already looks bewilderingly vast, then. But I like how homely and domestic the first game was. Science fiction often takes scale to mean a sense of vastness, but there is a beautiful pocket-sized scale to Beyond Good and Evil that you don't see very often.
Left 4 Dead
At this stage, Valve is best known for not releasing games, but the return of Half-Life suggests that maybe the magic might still remain. If so, let us hope it is next applied to its youngest and most unjustly abandoned franchise - which honestly, is also the one that should be the easiest to expand. The pitch couldn't be simpler: there's four of you, there are effectively infinite zombies, and there's not quite enough weaponry. The exit is over there. Go. And don't think you can do anything away from the group.
The first game was a slightly glitchy co-op masterpiece, the sequel buffed out the bugs and added competitive multiplayer, and both made internet heroes from their cast of plucky survivors based entirely on audio barks. Both games can be replayed far, far often than their relatively short list of levels might suggest. The Director behind the scenes times the zombie hordes such that each level contains multiple high-stress, high-comedy showdowns as your team slogs through to the next checkpoint, with last-second slips, shots or flailed frying pans becoming the single thing that buys you success or failure.
The rise of service games and survival has seen both zombies and online co-op become one of the defining experiences of the last decade, but almost none manage the mix of tension, frustration, and tears of laughter that Left 4 Dead delivers every time. Having established a winning formula that could be applied to any zombie setting, Valve then left it on the shelf for a decade - despite it being blissfully free of the lore millstone that will doubtless be shackled to Half-Life: Alyx. Here's hoping another band of four can rise, pick up some improvised weapons, and face the horde again in the years ahead.
Jet Set Radio
An enormous old-school world-saving RPG from Camelot, the studio behind Shining Force, Golden Sun was so big it ended up released on Game Boy Advance in two parts over subsequent years. The excellent original and its enjoyable follow-up The Lost Age told two halves of a saga full of magic and heroes which its creators promised was just a prologue to bigger events in future games.
But when the first - and to date, last - of these later games arrived (Dark Dawn, for DS) much of the charm had not survived an awkward-feeling change of platform. It was nowhere to be found in Dark Dawn's more 3D-ified visuals, blander next generation of heroes and noticeably smaller world. Camelot has since retreated back into its work making Mario sports games, its focus on Golden Sun set behind the horizon.