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Coming on the heels of what many considered an industry-wide downturn, the games of 2010 proved the naysayers had no idea what they were talking about. Just the 12 games that made the cut for consideration for our coveted Game of the Year prize alone presented a staggering array of accomplishment across all platforms. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Civ V, Fallout: New Vegas, Halo: Reach, Heavy Rain, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Mass Effect 2, Rock Band 3, Starcraft 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm and of course, Red Dead Redemption.

A year in which just those 12 games had been released can be considered a banner year in game design excellence, but those were only a portion of the list of games we reviewed at The Escapist and considered potentially “games of the year.” Choosing just one, to represent the year 2010 as its best videogame offering, therefore, was a monumental undertaking, one we took seriously and over which we debated for weeks.

What makes a game “Game of the Year?” We decided that, in contrast to our reviews process, during which we consider each game in a vacuum, judging it on its own merits, by how well it embodies the elements we consider important in game design, a Game of the Year must be considered linearly, in contrast to its fellows and all that has come before. The Game of the Year must be the very best game that has been made as of right now in this current year. A Game of the Year is the state of the art of design and play as we understand it, informed by the thoughts, exhilaration, styles of play, necessities of design and cultural considerations of today. The Game of the Year will be remembered in later years as the best the industry had to offer in its time. It is a snapshot of what matters most right now, and as such, must be considered as part of the field, and not as a standalone experience.

There were a lot of games released in 2010 that we consider worthy of remembrance, but did not – for one reason or another – make it to the table for consideration for Game of the Year. This is partly due to our practice of being selective as to which games we play and review. We did not believe it would be appropriate to nominate games for which we had not awarded a review score. There were also games which, although possessed of brilliance in some areas, fell short in others, and although could be considered worthy nominees for Game of the Year, were not well-enough reviewed by our editors to stand up to rigorous debate. For this purpose, our deliberations began with the games of 2010 which we had awarded four or five stars, and our team of editors whittled – through vigorous debate – the list from there.

In considering our list of 12 nominees, then, the debate pivoted around consideration for which games more than one of us could say we honestly believed should be Game of the Year, based on the criteria set forth above and on our own experiences playing each game and reviewing them. The result of these deliberations, I feel, was the truest, most pure debate on the merits of a single game I have ever witnessed, and I am incredibly proud to present the winner, The Escapist‘s 2010 Game of the Year: Red Dead Redemption.

From my review of Red Dead Redemption:

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Red Dead Redemption succeeds where so many other [Western games] have failed; by focusing on what makes Western movies so unique: setting and character. … The gunplay, the gambling and the jingle-jangle-jingling of your spurs are all there, and certainly add their spice to the pie, but there are plenty of games in which you can shoot things and gamble – and some do it better. Where Red Dead Redemption shines is in creating a uniquely-Western sandbox (literally) for you to trot around in and giving you plenty of genre-true (if not realistic) experiences.

There is so much to see and do in Red Dead Redemption, you’ll quickly become absorbed in poking at the edges, looking for where the lines are drawn. In fact, as excellently written and voiced as the game’s main story cinematics may be, and as engrossing as the main story missions generally are, you’ll probably spend as much time avoiding them in favor of the sandbox experience, as you will seeking them out in order to progress the story.

Red Dead Redemption is, in other words, Grand Theft Horse, and that is more good than bad. In all my years of wondering when someone would come along and blow the doors off the Western genre in game form, it never occurred to me to look for that King Kong of Western games in the open-world genre. And yet, here it is. In retrospect, it only makes sense.

Red Dead Redemption, at the time that we reviewed it, was a game we considered worthy of our highest score, five stars, a perfect score by our system, and as an editorial team, we are now awarding an even higher honor: Game of the Year. We would like to offer our congratulations to Rockstar Games and the entire team responsible for bringing this game to life.

Below are thoughts from the rest of the editorial team at The Escapist regarding our Game of the Year, and why that game is Red Dead Redemption.

Susan Arendt, Senior Editor
The Western genre is one that lends itself very easily to parody, cliche, and accidental corniness, but the people, places, and events of Red Dead Redemption feel genuine. You never get the sense that the core of Red Dead Redemption was conceived, then slapped into a ten-gallon hat to fill some untapped niche on the game store shelf. It is a Western down to its core.

Steve Butts, Managing Editor
Since most of us will probably never really live up to our childhood ambitions of being real cowboys or cowgirls, Red Dead Redemption fills a crucial and long-standing need. For me, games are about wish-fulfillment, and this one delivers everything you could want, from showdowns to roundups, and does it brilliantly. John Marston is exactly the kind of hero I wanted to be, doing exactly the kind of things I wanted to do.

Justin Clouse, Video Producer
While there were plenty of other excellent games that came out this year, what really sold me on Red Dead Redemption was that it finally and truly brought the Western setting to the videogame medium. From the characters, to the environment and all the little details, Red Dead Redemption touches on all the classic western elements in a way no other game has.

Nick Haines, Video Producer
I’m from the part of the US that looks like the world of Red Dead Redemption, and the scenery is so convincing it makes me homesick. I could jump on a horse and ride around for hours just to watch the landscape go by.

Greg Tito, Games Editor
Red Dead Redemption is that rare gem of a game that combines excellent storytelling, a vibrant setting and superb cinematography all while being damn fun to play. You enter New Austin knowing next to nothing about John Marston but you depart with a deep understanding of his view of how the West was changing and what forms his character as a gunslinger, father and husband – in addition to his love of shooting coyotes and picking Wild Feverfew.

Now that you know what we thought, we’d love to know which game was your 2010 Game of the Year. Share your thoughts with us on our forums.

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