Tom Bissell’s 2010 top ten

Tom Bissell is the author of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, one of Amazon.com’s 10 best nonfiction books of 2010. Since my gameplay tends to skew towards older games, re-releases, and games sold in red “Greatest Hits” packaging, I asked him via email for his 10 favorite games from 2010.

Metro 2033 1. Metro 2033
XBox 360, PC
Enslaved 2. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
PS3, Xbox 360
Kane and Lynch 2 3. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
PS3, XBox 360, PC
Limbo 4. Limbo
XBox Live Arcade
Red Dead Redemption 5. Red Dead Redemption
PS3, XBox 360
Just Cause 2 6. Just Cause 2
PS3, XBox 360, PC
Heavy Rain 7. Heavy Rain
PS3
Comic Jumper 8. Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley
XBox Live Arcade
Mass Effect 2 9. Mass Effect 2
XBox 360, PC (PS3 in 2011)
BioShock 2 10. BioShock 2
PS3, XBox 360, PC

Craig: Which games did you play on which console? For multi-platform games, was there a reason you played on one rather than the other?

Bissell: I played Just Cause 2 and Enslaved on the PS3 and Red Dead on both; I played BioShock 2 on Xbox; the rest, I think, were platform exclusive titles. Why I play on what is a weird question for me. Sometimes I try to play the game on the system it was developed on. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t been playing one system enough. Sometimes it’s to feed the monkey of the vicious trophy war I’m involved in with my friend, the writer Taylor Clark, aka StolenHoliday, who has fully 100 fewer bronze trophies than I but four more silver. Madness! I just bought Enslaved again for the Xbox, in part because I read it didn’t sell well and I want to support the company and because it’s got a nice love story and my girlfriend loves videogame love stories . . . but she also loves getting trophies and achievements, and playing through a game in which I’ve already gotten most of the in-game awards is a drag for us both.

Craig: Which game did you spend the most time playing (by choice, that is, not which game took the longest to complete)?

Bissell: I think I probably spent the most time playing Red Dead and Rock Band 2 (I’m a drummer, and drum during writing downtime quite a lot to clear my mind), followed by Just Cause 2. Those were the best open-world games out this year, and, man, did they give you a lot to do. Just Cause 2‘s story was a fucking disgrace—not even funny in a jokey way, though it tried to be—but it was such a fantastic game.

Craig: Not owning an XBox, I’d love to hear about Limbo and Comic Jumper [which are available only as XBox Live Arcade downloads]. I love that one seems to be really dark and challenging and one looks really colorful and energetic. Do these games do anything that the $60 buy-a-disc-in-a-store games aren’t doing?

Bissell: Limbo is phenomenal—Super Mario Bros. as designed by Ingmar Bergman. I loved it. And Comic Jumper just made me laugh more than any other game I’ve played in a long, long time. It’s hilariously funny. What smaller, downloadable games like this do, I think, are lower the bar for developers with great, talented people working for them and allow people with maybe not so much time to play games as a half-time creative writing professor to jump in and have a great experience without the life-changing TIME investment something like Red Dead REQUIRES OF you. They’re also able to resurrect and change up older genres in a way that I don’t think the buyers of a retail title would as easily countenance.

Craig: I’ve read that you were disappointed that Enslaved wasn’t more popular. What’s unusual about the game? Do you think that its failure to catch on was just a failure of marketing or does it say something about the console gaming audience? (Do you think it might have done better as a lower-budget downloadable game?)

Bissell: I’ll tell you what’s unusual about Enslaved: It’s written by someone who’s aware that sometimes what characters say and what they mean is different. It allows silence to define some interactions. Its characters are permitted to change and become more and sometimes less complicated. In film or fiction, this is all Dramaturgy 101, but in video games it still comes off as a revelation. I have no idea why it didn’t sell, and hate it when people guess about this stuff, because it’s totally unpredictable and completely unfathomable. Most of it, I think, is luck and positioning. The reason the Call of Duty games are so commercially unstoppable is at this point inertia. That said, the fact that three of my favorite games—Enslaved, Metro, Kane and Lynch—all kind of tanked and didn’t get good reviews suggests to me that I’m simply out of step, maybe, with what the average gamer wants. This was the year I decided I hate most game reviewers.

Craig: Finally, we’ve had two different people write about Red Dead Redemption on The Idler, and the final essay in Extra Lives talks at length about Grand Theft Auto IV. What did you make of Rockstar’s take on the end of the Old West?

Bissell: I absolutely loved it.

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  1. […] than Red Dead Redemption, which seems to be an Idler consensus favorite from 2010, my practice is normally to wait until I can pay $20-$30 to pick up a game rather than the $50-$60+ […]

  2. […] lost to God of War III, but c’mon, this was Spike TV.) Tom Bissell included it on his list of his 10 favorite games of 2010. (I’m allowed a self-plug every now and […]



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