i played 73 games in 2020 and here’s a jumbled mess of emotions about of all of them
QUICK NOTE: TO GET THIS OUT IN TIME I HAD TO STOP ADDING LINKS AND IMAGES; I WILL ADD THEM WHEN I WAKE UP ON MONDAY
2020 was a difficult year, to put it mildly. Sure, I can tell you about covid or relationships deteriorating or medical emergencies or whatever, but I think you get it. You know.
So instead I’m going to tell you about something very, very cool that happened: A game I worked on came out.
Back in 2019 at GDC, my buddy Rory pinged me and said he had something to show. What he showed… well, suffice it to say, it blew my brains out. That project would later get revealed to the public as Hardspace: Shipbreaker, but before then, the team very kindly asked me to do a paid writing test, then let me write for them for about three months.
Hardspace came out this year, and it’s incredible. The entire team is just full of the most generous, wonderful, kind people I’ve ever worked with; at one point, I broke down, telling a friend about how kind they were, and he just said, quietly, “that’s how people are supposed to treat you.” I cried later.
So I have nothing but love for that team, that project, that game. I contributed in some small way to the experience, and I hope my work brings you joy; I know everyone else on the team absolutely will. Huge shout out to Rory, Elliot, Trey, Ben, Ian, and everyone else at Blackbird.
Because it’s Early Access, I don’t consider a playthrough a completion — yes, this is also a disclaimer — so I’m hesitant to include it on my list. Likewise, if I did “game of the year” lists, I would have to exclude it because I worked on it — that’s just a thing I’ve been trying to do. Still… the game fuckin rules. It does. It is excellent. It would be in my GOTY list if I could include it!!
Go check it out here.
This year, I did something a tiny bit different. I don’t know if I enjoyed writing literally thousands of words all at once, so I figured, hey, why not write about the games as I’ve played them? Then, when the year is out, I can look back on the games and see if I’d change anything. I have found that, sometimes, games change over time; you need your opinions to age, like a real good cheese.
These are the games I played in 2020, and what I thought about them at the time, perhaps with some changes.
- Darksiders 3 (PC)
I loved Darksiders, despite how it was sort of doing the Master of None thing. I liked Darksiders 2 a lot, because of how amazing Death felt to control, how great the dungeons and puzzles were, and, like Darksiders 1, how gorgeous it all was. Plus, Jesper Kyd’s soundtrack is stellar (I say this as someone who doesn’t like video game music for the most part, not understanding the phenomenon of people going to concerts to listen to game music, or buying game soundtracks, or anything like that). I know some people didn’t love Darksiders 2 — the Plains go on a bit too long considering the lack of visual variety, and the Diablo-esque loot system doesn’t change how you play the way it does in Diablo. But still… the base movement/puzzles/combat/art/music was so good that, well, I can’t help but love both games for different reasons.
Then publisher THQ died, which meant that the budget to make Darksiders games died with it. For a while, the series’ existence was in limbo. Then someone bought the rights, and empowered former developers, now rebranded as Gunfire Games (who were responsible for last year’s excellent Remnant: From the Ashes, a game which, despite the bad name, is a game I played a whopping four or five times to completion in a single year, which, if you know me, you know I almost never do, because there’s always new games to play).
So basically: I really like what these people make.
But Darksiders 3?
Well… like Remnant, it’s heavily inspired by Dark Souls, but where Remnant is good and smart because it discards all the things that make Dark Souls clones boring and uninteresting, Darksiders 3 was like “yeah we just gonna clone this.” Lotta love for Dark Souls going on at that studio.
Just like most Dark Souls clones, and unlike Remnant, it picks and chooses poorly. It kept the controls, for instance (Remnant, as a shooter, cannot do this). It kept the souls mechanic (Remnant, wisely, does not). It has an impressive, intertwined level design that, like Dark Souls, is reminiscent of a Metroidvania, but I think it skews closer to a Metroidvania than Dark Souls. Where DS is all about discovery and clever enemy placement, Darksiders 3 still needs to have the big, sweeping attacks and power progression and flourish to maintain its identity as a Darksiders game. The difference seems subtle, but in execution, it isn’t. There’s just too much mobility, too many cool powers, too much open space for it to ever be a Dark Souls game.
They patched the controls, and in doing so, revealed what a brilliant game they’d made. Darksiders 3 is clearly a game on a budget, especially compared to the excesses of Darksiders 2, but wow. What a great use of that budget. These guys are pros, and it shows.
Darksiders is one of those games you start and, if you’re like me, bounced off of because of the Dark Souls control scheme. Once they brought back classic? Hoo boy! Reinvigorated! Powerful! Exciting as heck! Darksiders 3 is a better metroidvania than it is a Dark Souls. What a fun game, with bangin’ character design and baller game feel. Strip out the souls mechanic and figure out why some of the crates are missing textures, and you’d have a game I’d unreservedly recommend.
2. It’s Winter (PC)
It’s a short, meditative little piece, more an art installation than a game. Neato, I guess?
3. Pokemon Sword (Switch)
There’s this great bit in Pokemon Sword where I went up against a trainer who didn’t seem to have a type. Usually you get, like, Bird Trainer or Psychic Trainer or whatever, but this lady didn’t have a type until I realized she was going with “beauty” Pokemon, like Tsareena. Then you get down to her last Pokemon and it’s a giant trash heap, seen above. It made me laugh.
Expectations were high for Sword and Shield, because this was going to be the first mainstream Pokemon game (not a spinoff like Snap or XD) designed to be played on a television.
Of course, with that fidelity came a cost, and Game Freak didn’t bring over every Pokemon, including my favorite, Rayquaza. That was a huge bummer, especially because of the mixed messaging around what would happen to the Pokemon who couldn’t be played in these new games. A lot of people were upset, looking for any reason to hate on the new games.
I’ve never hated a cover legendary as much as Zamazenta and Zacian. I thought the game was too easy. I am disappointed they still went with a fixed camera when the game is so pretty (anyone telling you it looks awful clearly has not bothered to look too closely at Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game that looks so much worse because it has absolutely 0 anti-aliasing going on).
Here’s the thing:
In terms of Quality of Life, it’s the best game in the series. Do I wish it had the Pokemon I loved most? Yes. Absolutely. I do. Do I wish it had better online than it does? Yes, even though it’s the best in the series. The fact is, it was fun, it made a lot of great improvements to the formula, it finally brought back the ‘jerk’ rival in the form of Bede.
It’s still Pokemon, doing the Pokemon thing. If you were expecting more than that, well, I’m sorry. It’s a sequel to a 20 year old series. It’s going to do what it do. It just happens to do most of that really darn well.
4) Ico (PS3)
A lot of people told me, hey, you can skip Ico. Shadow of the Colossus is better. Maybe it is. Maybe. What I can tell you is, after getting to the first save couch, I bounced off it. Then, over a year later, I came back and gave it a shot. Turns out I love Ico. I love it a whole lot.
One thing you have to understand: to progress through this game, you need to play with Yorda, the girl you find trapped in the castle. You need her to get out. This is a game thematically and mechanically about that friendship.
I know some people don’t want her to be incompetent, and I get that, but I think games are more suited to playing a protector character simply because, well, you, as a human being, have agency. You can make decisions. You can do things. So it makes sense — I’m not saying this is the right decision, just that I understand it — to put the player in a position of a protector over an AI character that’s disadvantaged in some way. If Yorda was solving all the puzzles and you felt useless, the game wouldn’t feel very good to play. You’d be largely passive — and for a game to actually fulfill its function as a game, you must be active. If not, well, it might be a valid expression, but it’s certainly not a valid expression of a game.
So Ico can do things and Yorda mostly just does what she’s told or gets kidnapped. And that kind of sucks. It sucks that there’s a girl and she’s weak and useless except for some “mysterious power” that she holds, because I’ve played so many games and seen so many television shows and just so many other works of art that are like “here am boy, he might be a weak mortal but he is courageous and strong. Here am girl. She is useless but idk maybe she got magic or somethin.” Magic girls in these kinds of stories is like how, back in roleplay circles circa 2006, bad writers thought “a character flaw” was “clumsy but in a cute way.”
Society’s got problems with strong girls. It does. It’s afraid of them. Just look at any relationship where the girl is the tall one; people assume there’s something wrong with the guy, they look down on him. I remember back when Legend of Korra first came out, and in my writing class, someone said something like “[the dude Korra had eyes for] isn’t good enough, she should date [the show’s more effeminate girl] instead!” Everyone seemed to enthusiastically agree; don’t make the guy look bad by putting him next to the world’s most powerful person! It’s rare we get a relationship as good and interesting as DC Comics’ Scott Free and Big Barda. People are usually just too insecure to let men be anything other than the strong one in a relationship.
My point is, Ico has boring, vanilla, seen-it-all-before gender roles because it’s a game about two people who need each other, but only one of those characters is playable. It has amazing puzzles, a wonderful environment, an incredible sense if progress as you look back where you’ve been and see how far you’ve come. It’s a game that folds in on itself like a Metroidvania, but without the inherent gaminess that implies.
It’s just a bit unfortunate that to be a fun game, it ends up kinda falling back on typical gender roles of “boy strong and courageous, girl useless except when magical (and you get a sword to replace her at the end).” The only time she shows strength is in cutscenes — because that’s when the player isn’t playing. I think The Last Guardian might get this balance better — I’m writing this on January 28th, and I plan to start in the next few days — because it’s a human/animal relationship.
I don’t think “being cliche” ruins Ico for me, but it does bum me out that for a game so inventive and exciting, it’s ultimately about a boy saving a girl. Any game is going to need to be about asymmetrical partners unless it’s co-op.
Ultimately, I loved Ico. I did. Just wish it was more surprising than it was.
Great use of distance fog and minimal to no music to really convey the bigness of the space.
5) Kane & Lynch (360)
In the picture above, we see an open space. If you try to run for the next visible cover, you will get mowed down by gunfire. Guns aren’t super accurate, so taking out enemies on the far balcony at range is difficult, at best. Your fireteam is too dumb to take cover half the time, so they run out into the middle of the arena and die.
Way too much of Kane & Lynch is like this. It’s a game that doesn’t understand cover’s primary function: to facilitate movement, or its secondary function, to help you regain health. The level design simply does not work with the game’s health system. Enemies are too accurate and too powerful on the game’s normal difficulty mode to feel good to shoot. There’s a level that demands stealth but the game doesn’t actually have stealth mechanics; all it has is “enemy is aware and attacking or unaware and not attacking.”
Here’s the thing: there’s actually a lot of really interesting ideas in Kane & Lynch. The merc squad system, which revives you before Gears of War 2’s more famous DBNO system, as well as gives you ammo and takes orders, is really cool. Lynch’s instability is portrayed in a way that feels more authentic to mental health struggles than some of the more cartoonish interpretations I’ve seen; his potential to go off the deep end is used for drama.
The game’s obviously inspired by Michael Mann; the club scene echoes Collateral, the street shootout in Tokyo is so reminiscent of Heat that it even uses the same blue tones in its color palette. That’s actually why I wanted to play it — I wanted to watch a Michael Mann movie but didn’t feel like it, and then a day later I finished it because wow, the game doesn’t really delineate its levels at all, they just kinda flow.
This could have been a masterpiece. It’s interesting, it’s surprisingly well written, the art is absolutely stellar for a game from 2007.
But the level design and the health system don’t fit each other, the player AI isn’t as good as it needs to be. If this game had more flow it would be perfect; as it is, it’s a whole lot of “read the designer’s mind,” which means trying, failing, learning that oh, a guy will spawn to your right, you need to shoot him, then go ahead, shoot the jeep that comes straight at you (if you miss, it will get behind you and continue shooting, but you can’t shoot it because you’re on a jeep’s mounted gun, so if it hits you enough, you’ll die), then hit the tower on the left, then hit another tower on the left…
Trial and error doesn’t make games fun unless they’re purely mechanics driven. Reading the designer’s mind isn’t good; it’s the mark of bad design.
Kane & Lynch 2 on the hardest difficulty on PC in co-op was an occasionally frustrating masterpiece. Kane & Lynch? It’s a game with a lot of great ideas that didn’t make it into the sequel and it could have been a masterpiece, but it wasn’t quite there. Neither is on par with something like Gears of War 3 or Binary Domain as a shooter, but both provide something grimy and interesting.
6) Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)
That blur in the middle of the screen, being launched of the Colossus, is me. I had glitched through the creature.
I can tell you the game is gorgeous. I can tell you I did not feel sad for killing the Colossi, because they were all part of Dormin’s soul, and Dormin, being the malicious demonic entity with horns and fire breath that had the power to bring back the dead, who was imprisoned for untold millennia in a massive quarantine zone, is not a good dude, and most of them also were trying to kill me.
I can tell you that the controls were frustrating. Part of that was because my SCUF Vantage appears to have an issue with the left stick, but most of the time, it was just super wonky physics I had to fight.
I think Shadow of the Colossus is good, but I don’t think it’s the masterpiece teveryone told me it was. That’s not to say it isn’t a masterpiece — it almost is. Tarkovsky said that a masterpiece is something where no part feels like it doesn’t belong. I think Colossus 4 doesn’t belong. I said, while I was streaming, “they should have cut this.” I still think I was right.
Some people will spoil things, getting that high off of pissing off people who didn’t want to be spoiled, and then defensively argue (incorrectly, I might add) that there was some scientific study that said spoilers actually enhanced your enjoyment of a thing. I do not think the spoilers enhanced my enjoyment of Shadow of the Colossus. That’s not to say it was anyone’s fault for spoiling it for me — the game’s like fourteen years old at this point — but I definitely do not think I found a deep, passionate, abiding love for this game. It’s more of a “that’s very admirable,” thing. I did not fall head over heels in love with this game. It was fun. It was well put together. I had a good time. It is something I’ve used “I” to talk about a lot while playing, but not something that personally really landed with me.
Maybe it’s my flat affect — I am, after all, suffering from a severe “major depressive disorder,” but there are games that do reach out to me.
I tell you all this, but other than Colossus 4 and Colossus 16 and how the game being glitchy really made it hard to appreciate them, I had a great time. I enjoyed the time I had. I just wasn’t… quite… this game did not change my life. This game did not significantly alter my understanding of what games could be.
It did things I personally love — most notably, killing giant monsters and exploring a world that feels like a real space. It surprised me with the ability to shoot lizard tails that would be torn off, which you could eat to improve your stamina, and which would then grow back to be farmed if you didn’t kill the lizard the first time.
This is a game that considers its space with simulation mechanics, but it does not enter the pantheon of Games That Made Me. It’s no STALKER, no Kentucky Route Zero, no Halo or Monster Hunter World or System Shock 2 or Marathon or Unreal Tournament 2004 or Ace Combat 5. It’s a good game, a very well made game, that does things I already know I like, not because I’ve seen its mechanics in other games (Darksiders 2 and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow spring to mind, but Shadow of the Colossus is so far beyond them in its attention to detail), but because they hit on the core things I like in games: a sense of space, a sense of life.
I loved the place I went to in this game.
I just wish the controls didn’t suck.
7) Pokemon Ultra Sun (3DS)
In February, I went to PAX East. I remember that vividly. I remember flying home. I remember not feeling well shortly after — as soon as I got home, I cut off all contact with people ‘ cause Covid seemed serious. Sure enough, it put me on my butt for a while. The prep for PAX East was arduous, but getting sick with covid myself — though I was never tested because I have no medical care, I had every symptom, from loss of smell to awful fever to a cough that still comes back on occasion.
I was focused primarily on development of Adios. A few things happened; I promised myself I’d play Kentucky Route Zero now that it was finally released, and that didn’t happen. I intended to write about every game I completed as I completed it, and that plan kind of fell apart here.
But during the worst couple of weeks, I couldn’t get out of bed, so I played nothing but Pokemon, which was on my 3DS and easy to play despite the fever and cough and stuff.
Pokemon Ultra Sun should’ve been DLC for Pokemon Sun. It is not a significant upgrade to the game, though if you have to choose, I would recommend Ultra Sun over Sun (though I preferred the way you got Zygarde in Sun).
What is there to say about Ultra Sun?
Well, instead of a contiguous world map, it’s a series of islands with different biomes. It has a super lengthy tutorial, isn’t that challenging, doesn’t have a memorable story… like… honestly, I played it because the Pokemon formula is compelling; it feels like the team there wants to target children, but they don’t have much contact with children, so the game ends up feeling like it panders a bit.
Some of the new Pokemon are cool, others not so much. It’s not excellent like Sapphire/Ruby/Emerald were.
8) Doom Eternal (PC)
This looks small and your brain will think I have a little to say because this is mostly links to all the things I had to say. Trust me, I had a lot to say about Doom Eternal, and it’s become my most viewed piece on the entire site.
Oh yeah, and I’m writing a sequel piece.
What I’ll say here is this: Doom Eternal doubled down into the elements of Doom that I thought were the rough edges; it wants to be things that don’t gel. It’s a game that got rid of everything that made Doom 2016 the glorious revival it was. Here’s a tweet thread.
I also wrote about an easy-to-kill enemy that doesn’t compliment the design for Vice. A bunch of people read it and went “git gud scrub” because they’re idiots who don’t understand that this is more like listening to a song with a single instrument that doesn’t work.
From my Steam review: “At the end of it all, I was thinking about hard drive space, and I ended up uninstalling Doom Eternal. I still haven’t uninstalled Doom 2016. Probably never will.”
Also, this screenshot is the only one I have of the game for some reason; alt+print screen just did not want to work for Doom Eternal.
9) The Stanley Parable (PC)
It’s a neat game, but it feels like one of those games where the gimmick is what makes people go “oh wow” and that’s… kinda all there is? What’s the thesis of the game, exactly? That games are an illusion? Bioshock said that in 2007 and it was wrong then too; art is something we participate in despite knowing it isn’t real. Telling us it isn’t real doesn’t make you profound. I loved The Beginner’s Guide because it was so human. The Stanley Parable, to me, is less of a game than that. Worth a playthrough? Probably. Did it influence my design thoughts™? No. With some distance from it (I’m writing this in 2021 now, because covid blew up my plans to journal my games in real time), ehnh. A game saying “gweeheehee, games are curated experiences” is just… duh.
Has that Source Prettiness going on though, which was great.
10) Resident Evil 3 (PC)
For 2019, I think I said something like “this is the year where a bunch of teams who are the best at what they do end up doing what they do best.” Resident Evil 2 was a big part of that; it is excellent at just about everything, modernizing the controls to feel amazing while still keeping the tension perfect. It’s a game that has short campaigns that feel meaty and huge. It has great characters, spectacular bosses, engaging systems, brilliant level design.
In short, it’s everything Resident Evil 3 is not.
Not only did they cut out a bunch of the content from the original game, but they made it relentlessly linear; so much of a great survival horror game is in mastery — when you make it linear, it loses a lot of the knowledge you learn as you traverse spaces multiple times. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good action game like Dead Space as much as anybody, but… Resident Evil 3 isn’t a great action game either.
It’s not a bad game, but it’s not a great game, nor is it a substantial game. My save was 8:13, at which point I uninstalled the game.
I think for me, the level design issue really was the biggest part; what I loved about Resident Evil 2 was learning and experiencing the space. Without the attention that Dead Space and Dead Space 2 paid to encounter design, it just… it loses a lot, and that really breaks my heart. I hear the next Resident Evil is going to be one of the bigger games, which is exciting.
It doesn’t seem to like taking screenshots — had to use steam instead of my typical way, which isn’t great.
While it isn’t often I say “wait for a sale,”
wait for a sale on this one.
11) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
I liked it at first, with the genuinely adorable visual design and the puzzles, but by the end, I was just like “oh my god please let it be over!!”
I think part of it was the way later puzzles require you to solve puzzles that sometimes aren’t even in the same room, or the way navigation through its world just doesn’t feel that pleasing and everything, especially the backtracking, just starts feeling like obstacles in your path.
The upgrade system is more in line with what I enjoy — the way you got gear that concretely changed how you could navigate the space — but I was sad when I lost my chain chomp. As a blend of Mario and Zelda, it’s an interesting experience, and I really cannot get over how absolutely cute it is as a game, but still, there I was, at the end, looking up guides just so it could be over.
Look, unlike a lot of you, I didn’t grow up with console games; Nintendo has no hold over me, there is no nostalgia here because I didn’t start really playing games until college. People shout about how amazing this and Breath of the Wild are, but… I just don’t see it. There must be some connection you have with the series that I don’t; these experiences just don’t feel excellent to me at anything they do. They just kind of… exist.
Don’t think this is me saying that games age poorly or something — after all, Breath of the Wild’s as new as they come — I just think you must have some kind of special attachment to these games to really, truly love them.
And I don’t.
12) Evolve (Xbox One)
I booted this up because I’d heard the servers were down and I wanted to know if that was the case. I remember playing the beta and thinking “you know, this game would be good if it was PVE,” and I stand by that; 4v1 gameplay never works unless the 1 is powerful and can’t be ganged up on. It feels bad to play when you’re all by yourself and four other people are trying to kill you.
Still, I was surprised when I booted it up and found you could do some singleplayer. The shooting feels nice (though some of the enemies are spongey); the art design is stellar, the monsters are super neat. I don’t really think the class system worked for this game at all.
Couple that with one of the worst microtransaction fiascos in history and, well, Evolve died pretty darn quick, which is a shame. Great art, great ideas; would’ve been an amazing Monster Hunter With Guns if they’d done it right, but Turtle Rock is all about asymmetrical competitive play.
This is a world that could still be a major hit, but making a looter without classes and heavy on the PVE would be the game to make all the money. I love the ideas at play here; it’s too bad they made the one kind of game that could never have succeeded.
Sadly, I have no screenshots of it.
13) Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (PC)
CD Projekt RED made three stellar games prior to Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, and honestly, I didn’t hate Thronebreaker either. I think being based on the wonderful ‘gwent’ card game from The Witcher 3 was nice, but the overall experience just felt a bit too long to really work out.
The rules are greatly improved upon here; no more simple ‘win with a spy’ deck, even though I enjoyed that. The story itself was pretty good, though I built a deck entirely around a character who betrayed me and left my party, which… wasn’t great, and then it happened again.
I think the goal was to make a game where you couldn’t just build one deck and stick with it forever, but the way they went about it definitely didn’t make me very happy. I felt like it was a step back from CD Projekt’s generally great RPG design in that regard — all choices felt like bad choices.
As always, CDPR’s actual writing is great, and the game was pretty darn fun; too bad that the game didn’t have save slots so I couldn’t go back and get a party member that I accidentally didn’t pick up because of a misclick.
What I’m saying is that I wanted to love it, I did enjoy playing Gwent a lot, but felt I was grappling with the RPG system in ways that weren’t always pleasing to me.
14) Scanner Sombre (PC)
I was not expecting this from Introversion (Darwinia, Defcon, Prison Architect), but they make cool stuff, and the visuals looked neat and the game was short. Don’t know when or how I picked it up.
But hey, let me tell you, the spooky t-posing guy really gave me the willies.
What didn’t give me the willies was that the player is actually, as best I recall, someone else watching the protagonist as he lives out the last moments of his life through the LIDAR patterns he scanned as he desperately tried to escape a cave.
“Goddammit,” I shouted as I neared the end, “it’s about guilt!”
(I played another game, Get Even, that had a similar premise)
I believe, judging by the fact that shortly after screenshots of this game, I find my “you can write better horror stories” article screenshotted — and that didn’t come out until January 1, 2021, when these screens are from April — that I must’ve been inspired by my frustration with this game to write that article, so instead of repeating myself here, I will link all 14,000 words of that.
I don’t like using spooky stuff when it’s really just about some guy who died in relatively mundane circumstances but did something he should feel guilty about. I’ve seen it all before, even though it doesn’t always look like this.
15) Sonic Forces (PC)
I was tired, it was short, I saw it on my list and thought it would be funny to play.
Sonic Forces is a bad video game with no redeeming qualities beyond the art.
I haven’t played a lot of Sonic games, but from what I’ve seen, Sonic is at its best when it is about flow, and Sonic Team seems to think breaking that flow is what’s going to make the experience enjoyable; I will politely disagree with that.
Whoever is over there leading development should stop and hand everything over to the Sonic Mania guys, who clearly get Sonic in a way that this team does not. This is an unpleasant video game.
16) The Park (PC)
Scanner Sombre might not have been the only inspiration for my horror games article, because I played The Park at around the same time. I hear that the game’s released basically saved the studio, so kudos to the horror streamers who mugged for the camera as reliably spooky things happened, but… well, look, if you read the horror piece, you know what I have to say.
Surreal stuff happens in this game but it’s basically all in your head, you feel guilty about stuff you did.
There’s a slight difference here in that there is a malevolent supernatural force messing with you, because this is somehow a tie in to The Secret World, an occult MMO.
I don’t get it either, but that’s super cool.
I’m glad it saved the studio but that doesn’t mean the game was something I enjoyed playing. I would never recommend The Park to anybody.
17) The Convenience Store (PC)
I can’t help but wonder if this one was inspired by Paratopic, given the setting and the surreal encounters with people who have photo heads, but I have no real way of knowing.
The Convenience Store is a real good mood; I enjoyed playing it a lot, though I don’t really have a lot to say because, to be quite honest, it’s short enough that discussing it too much would be spoilery. Still, they hit on the right notes, blending mundane with horror, but the game peters out by the end. Worth playing? It’s cheap enough to try, so I’d say you should.
18) A Plague Tale: Innocence (X1)
Instant fail stealth is bad; very-difficult-to-succeed-at stealth is almost worse because of how every death gets extended. If you aren’t entirely perfect at aiming — your only real way to fight back — then boom, you’re gonna take like 10 seconds longer to die than if the game was instant fail. It’s frustrating either way.
I loved the way A Plague Tale was written when it came to the interactions between the characters; the plot? A biiiit less so, not just because I’m not wild about ‘magic children’ stories, and I’m definitely not wild about ‘magic blood’ stories. But I was curious what was happening and I did want to see it through to the end; would I eagerly pick up a sequel? Probably not.
A big part of that was encounter variety — the game has a lot of stealth, but the core stealth isn’t… super great, for a game with what appears to be a sizable budget given how utterly gorgeous it looks and how long it is.
I feel like if you build a game around stealth, you should spend a lot of time ensuring that the stealth feels amazing to engage with; strong visual indicators, lots of ways other than cover to engage with stealth, stuff like that. While A Plague Tale clearly put a lot of budget into its visuals and performances, the gameplay itself repeats a limited set of mechanics and kind of half-asses a lot of the systems; it’s reminiscent of The Last of Us in this regard, but The Last of Us has extensive polish and A Plague Tale, sadly, does not. I didn’t realize they were basically the same game until hindsight kicked in because the writing is so much better in A Plague Tale, but yeah, they are basically both games with limited series of mechanics (in TLOU it’s all about ladders and dumpsters and pallets, in Plague Tale it’s either stealth, light puzzles, or scaring rats away with fire).
You may notice at this point that I finished a lot of games I didn’t really enjoy by the end of April. It’s because I’d picked up several games, dropped off them, and was starting to drown in games I hadn’t finished but probably should have. I realized that I would need a system.
So I invented one, I think around this time.
It goes like this: take a white board, write down a list of ten games. These are the only games you’re allowed to play. Write them all down with one color — I picked green, I think — and then physically erase one of the ten games when you complete it. Doesn’t that feel good? It sure did to me.
Want to start a new game? Cool, as long as you have ten active games at a time total, you’re fine, but start with a new color, like, say, blue. Now your white board has nine green games and one blue. You know the blue one is the newest one. By the time it’s 9 blues and 1 green, you know which game has been on the list the longest. Now I’m on pink and the only blue game left is KOTOR.
This really helped me get through games more quickly — rather than starting tons and abandoning them and then forgetting where I was and wasting time, I started turning into a completion machine.
19) Conan Unconquered (PC)
Petroglyph has never made games I really loved, despite being the heir apparent to Westwood, and I’m not really sure why. Sure, I can play individual games and tell you what each game’s flaws are, but I still don’t know how you go from the classics to games like Conan Unconquered.
In the case of Unconquered, it’s… only kinda an RTS. You build buildings, and when a timer finishes counting down, you gain resources based on the buildings you have. You build an army or more buildings with those resources. That army defends you from invasions, which usually come from multiple locations at once, but it isn’t really tower defense.
Waves tended to come fast, so it never felt like I could really grow my empire without getting dunked on, so in the last couple of maps, I did the unthinkable, installed a trainer, and just, uh, gave myself a lot of resources so I could focus on directing my army to fight enemies and explore the maps. Maybe this is my fault; I’m much better at building functional economies than I am doing combat, where I just tend to blob.
What I can say is I didn’t love it, and neither did reviewers.
20) Ghost Recon Future Soldier (PC)
I am not going to tell you that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a great game. It comes from the Xbox 360 era, and console-to-pc ports weren’t great at that time. The encounters are a bit jank, Ubisoft was trying to make a game that appealed to a more ‘modern’ crowd instead of just making something excellent… and yet…
I dunno, there’s a charm here, and it’s not just because Brian Bloom and Troy Baker are two of the members of your squad. Ubisoft did this cool thing with the UI in their 360-era games where you’d see the mission objectives appear in the environment, and I loved that a lot. Their drones weren’t just freecams to help you spot enemies — they were actual, interesting tools. The game is downright stunning for something as old as 2012, some of the missions are real dang fun, and the tools are cool.
Future Soldier doesn’t really respect characters from previous games, it doesn’t have nearly enough freedom to engage with the tools in interesting ways, and ideas like “diamond formation!” are silly as heck. Don’t play this for the story, play this because you kinda miss linear shooters.
Oh yeah, and the co-op works sometimes; I found that really fun. Would I play it again? I’m not sure. It’s janky. But I had a real good time with it.
21) Zombie Army 4 (PC)
A great co-op game is one where you laugh while you play, and by that standard, Zombie Army 4 is a masterpiece. The characters aren’t as good as Metal Gear Solid V when it comes to movement, and the levels and encounters aren’t as delicious as a game like Gears of War 3, but let me tell you — when you fight twenty Hitlers at once in the depths of hell, there’s something special here, especially when you’re doing it as a British Zombie named Hector.
The puzzles aren’t quite as ‘big’ as anything in Rebellion’s other series, Strange Brigade, but there’s still plenty of secrets and puzzles that were a genuine joy to search out; we played levels multiple times because we had more friends than available slots, and taking players through the missions over and over again, hunting for secrets or trying to take on challenges, was a genuine delight.
I loved Zombie Army 4, but my friends seem pretty satisfied by finishing it, so I’m not sure if we’ll ever go back for a total campaign playthrough, but man oh man, do I want to. There are still more secrets to find, more challenges to complete, more Hitlers to de-Hitler!
Hopefully, Rebellion will continue improving their character controls and encounter design until their game can stand with the best third person shooters out there. For now, the game (and series) is still an absolute joy, even if it does occasionally feel really stiff.
Fuck those guys that can’t take damage except from the back, though. The guys who can be knocked down but don’t die unless you shoot them in the heart are way more fun.
I am sorry for getting my friends killed with a giant zombie shark, though.
Everything I have to say about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 can be read here. This is one of the best pieces I’ve ever written, and I highly recommend you read it because it makes me happy when you do.
Gorgeous game, though. Love it to pieces. Highly recommend it.
23) Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee (Switch)
This is a remake of the original Pokemon games — or, more specifically, the final release of those games, Pokemon Yellow — except it’s… how do I say this without sounding like an Angry Gaming Type Of Guy… well, remember how, earlier, I said it felt like Pokemon seems increasingly distant from the children who actually play it, catering to an imagined child who can’t do anything for themselves?
This is the apex of that, but mixed with Pokemon Go’s catching system for some reason (it’s called “Pokemon Let’s Go” and was clearly designed to capitalize on the Pokemon Go brand as a way to introduce people to the series). Because it’s so simple, it loses anything that makes it a compelling experience, but that’s okay, because for a while, it was the only way to transfer Pokemon from your game of Pokemon Go, which I was playing as a way to motivate my ADHD self to remember to take walks — to Pokemon Home, the current way to store Pokemon for use in multiple Pokemon games on the Nintendo Switch.
So I suffered through it ’cause it let me do that.
Play Sword and Shield instead. You won’t love the story but it’s got the best quality of life in the series.
24) Terminator Salvation (Xbox 360)
Pretty sure one of my friends said that to me when I told them I’d be playing Terminator Salvation, the poorly-reviewed Xbox 360 era cover shooter. I dunno exactly why I decided to play it; maybe I was in the mood for a Terminator game, maybe I was in the mood for another 360-era cover shooter because they don’t make them anymore and the pickings are slim. Heck, maybe it was because Grin is an interesting studio and makes interesting things. Whatever the case was, I played it, and I learned a few lessons in the process:
- Annoying flying enemies aren’t fun to shoot because they’re often associated with unpredictable movement patterns that just leave the player guessing and frustrated they aren’t hitting, which means they aren’t fun.
- Enemies that can only really take damage from behind, requiring the player to either use explosives or try to flank them (but they rotate quickly to address threats and you can’t really control enemy aggro in a meaningful way) aren’t fun.
- Bullet sponge enemies who walk towards the player and won’t stop or slow down and don’t feel like they’re slowing down aren’t fun, especially if they can kill you very quickly and you have to be in cover to not die.
- Bad cover shooting level design often says “be in cover and try to flank,” and that is all there is to it, but the level design often doesn’t allow flanking, enemies respond to flanks too quickly to make the laborious process worth it, and the combat ends up either feeling like a shooting gallery or you just dying for frustrating reasons.
Terminator Salvation taught me a lot by being a very bad video game.
25) Army of Two (X1 Backwards Compatibility)
This game fucks.
At this point, I’m pretty convinced I was craving 360-era third person shooters something fierce, because why else jump into Army of Two directly after Terminator Salvation? Could it have been to wash the taste out of my mouth? Possibly, but then why did I agree to play Inversion with my pal Jake? (sadly we can’t get it to run on Windows 10, rip). What was that weird urge to play 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand and write about it for USGamer all about?
Okay, so, look, here’s the thing: this game is stupid. I mean it is absurdly stupid. Look at the tip up there — I think I tweeted that one out with a twitter hashtag that said “capitalism” because how could you not?
The obvious bad guy is an obvious bad guy. The level design is nothing to write home about. The combat is… well… okay, there are some cool ideas there; it’s an AI partner from before Bioshock Infinite gave up and decided to just make the AI partner invincible and everyone went “oh that’s how to make escort missions not suck” but designed with a series of commands (and genuinely fugly UI — how did EA put out Dead Space around the same time?) that let you not just tell your partner to take the heat off you, but let you use this to control enemies.
Now, if you know me, you know there’s one thing I love in games, and it’s enemy manipulation; if you can do things like throw grenades to flush enemies out of cover or misguide them in some way, I’m all about that (except for stealth games, where using noise to distract guards makes me feel like I’m failing by letting them know someone’s around).
You end up with a game that feels pretty fun to shoot, though not a best-in-class game like Gears of War 3. There’s something about the stupid bro relationship that’s satisfying, and I think as a game that I got for less than the $60 asking price, it was a really good time.
Sadly, the co-op servers are down; the game’s peer-to-peer, but the matchmaking server, as best I can tell, was on the EA side, not the Microsoft side. What a bummer.
These three games by Studio Oleomingus are spectacular and you should play them. They are short walking games that create a certain vibe, but I hesitate to say more. They are free and short; you can complete them all in an hour or so. Please wishlist Under a Porcelain Sun.
They should have made this a full game on PC.
30) Maneater (PC)
There is a problem with every single open world game in existence, which is that the game developers take an idea — say, blow up a number of buildings — and decide “you know what this game really needs? that, pasted fifty times across the map.”
Truth be told, I can’t say I’m a fan…
Because let me tell you, boy howdy, did I have fun with Maneater. The controls kind of hurt my hands (chronic pain + repetitive action = bad), but this is a game about being an angry shark who wants revenge after being ripped out of her mother’s womb. To that end, she mutates into a horrifying monstrosity of a creature on par with the Megalodon from The Meg.
There’s a lot of “this type of mission is the one where you have to eat up 50 humans on the beach,” or “this type of mission is the one where you have to eat 30 of a particular type of fish,” and that can get rote. It really, really can. It’s the same problem that Just Cause 3 and 4 ran into (2 as well, but 2 was from an era where that’s kinda all we had, along with contemporaries like Saints Row 2).
I like and dislike this style of game; on one hand, there’s a joy to the mindless mayhem of just going around and destroying stuff, but on the other, at some point you can just feel like you’re done with it, you know?
Remember earlier, when I said if your game is based around a specific type of action, you should do your absolute best to make that action feel good? Well, the shark game do a good job of make the shark do violent good feels, let me tell you, boy howdy. Mario feels good to jump around as, right? Put Mario in an all white room, hand the player a controller, and watch how much time the player will spend just… running around having fun inhabiting Mario. Nintendo perfected how he should feel, but when someone makes a game with a central mechanic around, say, stealth, but the stealth isn’t engaging at its core, well… bad games follow.
The shark game is a bit simplistic — swim on six axes, flop around on the ground, bite and shred — but oh man, does it feel hilarious to flop around on a beach chomping on humans.
I think this could’ve been an all-time favorite if they figured out how to do way more variety and less repetition, because it is basically just Shark Saints Row 2 or Just Cause 2, but still, Maneater is a game I had a lot of fun with. Plus it was short enough that the repetition didn’t get too bad, and it’s funny as hell.
31) Warstone TD (PC)
There are two kinds of tower defense games: the ones where you direct the flow of your enemies into particular kill boxes, and the ones where you have to place towers along set paths (sometimes placing towers only in specific locations assigned by the game). I find the creativity and joy of these games in planning out routes for the enemies to take, designing elaborate kill boxes and getting towers to combine in interesting ways.
For some reason, a lot of developers are invested in designing specific paths that enemies have to follow and specifying exactly where you can and cannot place your towers, and while I suspect this is because AI pathfinding is hard so most people would rather just program the specific enemy path, I definitely find the “design the path” games more fun as a player.
Warstone TD is not a ‘design your path’ game, and that makes me sad, but I’m aching for tower defense, so I get it where I can.
32) Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)
It’s like an Uncharted game that’s better-written than Uncharted 4 (and has the best-written woman in the series, seriously, she’s great), but goes on a bit long and was a Vita demo, so it has all these tacked-on mechanics that… aren’t great.
Like, there’s a whole card minigame you can literally ignore; just play the game and you’ll get to the end without ever engaging with it. There’s a mechanic where you have to take charcoal rubbings — just rub your finger over the picture until it’s done. Then there’s a slightly more advanced rubbing mechanic for dirty artifacts.
I know a lot of gamers and critics will just say things are “generic” or “tacked-on” or whatever, and it doesn’t mean anything, but to me, “generic” means “cheapest possible version of a thing, derivative, with no flair of its own,” and “tacked-on” means “if you removed it from the experience, the experience would be the same or better.”
Well, I wouldn’t call Golden Abyss generic — though it is faithful to the formula, perhaps to a fault. I would, however, say that its attempt at demonstrating the unique gimmicks of the Vita detract from what could’ve been a competent — maybe even the best — Uncharted game, not that I consider that a high bar.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m the guy who doesn’t like Naughty Dog games, I get that, but A) this wasn’t Naughty Dog, and B) I was playing it to see how far it pushed the Vita, not because I’m secretly an Uncharted fan or something.
Gave it a “D” rating at the time; might’ve been a C without the gimmicks and might’ve been even higher if it had a bit better encounter variety, but that’s an issue the series has always struggled with.
33) Gears Tactics (PC)
Moment to moment, this is the best tactics game ever made, but I gave it a C ranking in my personal list. How come?
So, the short version is this: it has no strategic layer, only a tactics one, and the limited pool of mission types means it wears out its welcome more quickly than something like XCOM, despite having, again, way better moment-to-moment gameplay. If I think back on my memories of it, there are individual slices that work absolutely brilliantly, but the length of the game combined with the lack of variety meant that the excellence still wore out its welcome. You gotta have some kind of variety to make that fun, and no strategic layer really hurt the game’s longevity, I think. Better tactics than XCOM, but XCOM I can put 80 hours into without breaking a sweat because the metagame is there.
Gears Tactics is an astonishingly good translation of a third person shooter into a tactics game with cool character dynamics.
For me, what really makes it sing is that it’s a game about building Rube Goldberg machines where the world is shifting around you each and every moment.
Like, you might find yourself surrounded, but it’s okay! See that cluster of enemies? Your grenade won’t kill them all directly, but we got this; we’re gonna have our heavy gunner put overwatch on a few of the enemies, but his cone for overwatch only goes so far! That’s alright, though, because our grenade can go further than the cone, and we can actually knock enemies into it! Excellent!
So we throw the grenade, it goes boom, we pinball our enemies in to overwatch, and our gunner takes most of them down — but one of the enemies doesn’t die, and we got a boomer behind us that we already shot with our sniper this turn! That’s okay — another character class (I forget the name) can run up and kill the remaining enemy with his retro lancer, which gives every other member of the team a new turn. Awesome! Now that our sniper has another turn, she can take the boomer out and we can reposition our scout and heavy.
Once you start turning Gears into a game about getting as many actions as possible and intelligently using the actions to start really thinking “how can I move not only myself but my enemies around the space to get even more actions?” Gears ends up being so much better of a tactics game than anything else I have played.
34) Black (Xbox One Backward Compatibility)
Black is a game that obsesses over guns and thinks it’s much cooler than it is. The game is astonishingly good looking on Xbox back compat, and it sounds amazing, with those bassy thumps and constant explosions — and this is a game that wants things to explode with the eagerness of a five year old or Michael Bay.
But it’s not a particularly good shooter, to be honest. The hits aren’t really that satisfying, the levels are kind of boring, the camera is just… there. It’s not doing anything special. Does it have memorable characters, a story worth talking about, any redeeming value whatsoever?
No… no, not really.
“Sound and fury,” describes the game, but it’s best to remember how that quote starts — a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
35 and 36) Frog Fractions and Frog Fractions: Hop’s Iconic Cap (PC)
Look, full disclosure, I’m in the credits for the “brain trust” on this game. This is not me saying I deserve any kind of accolades — please direct all of those to Jim, who I met at GDC 2019, when I was really struggling with a bad situation. He was kind and didn’t seem to mind that I was doing my best to appear somewhat normal.
Then for some reason he asked me if I’d like to do a quick consult on Frog Fractions, a game I’d always intended to play but hadn’t because, well, ADHD is a thing and I have literally thousands of games I want to play but haven’t got to.
I am so grateful for the opportunity; I played the game, offered the best feedback I could, and I hope that it was helpful. There are few people who I admire and want to see succeed forever, and Jim is one of those people. What a stellar dude.
Frog Fractions is special and you need Hop’s Iconic Cap. Just do it. Have a great time.
37) Draugen (PC)
Remember when I said that I didn’t like horror games about guilt? Well, Draugen’s another one where you walk around and don’t really do much in the way of gameplay but then there’s some reveal you’re a bad dude? Yeah, well, Draugen is that.
What sets it apart is that there’s a really cool side character, pictured above, who is wonderfully performed and a joy whenever she’s on screen.
Good, but like… not much to remark on. I would not recommend this game personally.
38) The Sinking City (PC)
You will notice that I gave a bit of a weird link for The Sinking City’s store page. There’s a reason for that: this one ensures money goes to the developer. You can read about why here.
I like detective games in theory, but often, it feels like L.A. Noire, where you’re going around and ‘talking’ to people and picking up evidence. The Sinking City was, to me, a bit of a revelation, and it’s in large part thanks to the titular city.
Imagine a scenario like this: you’re told you need to find Bob Smith. Okay, where’s Bob Smith? Well, you know he was in the news recently for doing a crime, so you head on over to the newspaper, walk to the back, and cross-match various newspaper themes (I can’t remember what they are but it’s something like people, places, events) until you find him. In this clue, you’ll usually find information like “speaking from the corner of Orchard Avenue and Holy Fire Lane,” and then you’re like ‘oh, okay, interesting. I’m going to see if he’s there!”
You pin the location on your map — the game doesn’t just automatically update to say “hey, you found the correct clue and got him! Here’s a big map marker!”
You know how people are constantly talking about how amazing it was that games like Morrowind didn’t have map markers everywhere? Well, hey, here you go! This is the game! You wanted to see what a modern game where you have to figure out what objectives are would look like? This is it! This is that game! And unlike other games that have tried — and just feel unintuitive — the work put into making this experience not only feel intuitive but let you roleplay a detective (who, in the picture above, is wearing an octopus for a hat, because I wanted to). So much of the game is you going “oh, huh, interesting, so that means…”
Because The Sinking City is a detective game that actually lets you deduce things. Is it as perfect as a great detective story? I’m not sure a game can be — a great detective novel or film has no failure state; the reader or viewer cannot interrupt the plot to make the protagonist make the wrong decision. If a wrong decision is made, that’s because it’s an interesting wrong decision (like in Chinatown, a great movie by a terrible director; Jack Nicholson’s Jake Giddes makes a lot of mistakes, and him being fooled is a big part of the reason the plot is compelling).
Like comedy, detective fiction is incredibly difficult to pull off in games because it requires impeccable timing to do really well. The solution for Disco Elysium was to simply plan for every single possibility and make failure as interesting as success. Is that viable for everyone else? I couldn’t say.
But what I can say is that The Sinking City is fantastic.
Also, it starts off acknowledging Lovecraft was a racist and doing its best to counteract Lovecraftian ideas of racism, so that was a really cool move; great job, Frogwares!
39) Blood And Truth (PSVR)
I don’t think I like VR; it’s like rail shooters — you don’t really get to control your movement all that much, which means you end up not really feeling like you’re in a world. The ‘presence’ of VR just doesn’t mean much when you’re wearing a weight on your head, restricted by a cable, and in the game your character can only teleport instead of just, like, moving fluidly.
Blood and Truth was neat, a nice little crime game I guess. But… I dunno. VR, man.
40) The Last of Us Part II (PS4)
It’s a video game that benefits from having a massive AAA budget, which means it can get a lot of the basics down, like “making the act of walking around feel polished,” but the narrative is derivative as hell to the point that we sat there on our stream accurately predicting things that would happen next. At one point, Phil goes “oh god, slavers,” and I went “there’s no way,” and he was like “there absolutely is” and I was like “but they already did the religious cult that calls zombies ‘demons’ and believes they’re a judgement from God” and he was like “watch” and sure enough, he was right.
I do not think The Last of Us II has redeeming value, but the shotgun kills had a lot of time and money put into them.
The article for this one is about 9,000 words deep right now; I’ll publish it later.
41) Grey Goo
I don’t know why Petroglyph has never hit the glory days of Command and Conquer, but Grey Goo, awful name aside (despite describing a very real phenomenon), is just… not very fun. They tried to create three very distinct factions, but I can’t say I enjoyed playing as any of them. The campaign is kind of miserable — truth be told, I don’t know why I finished this one. I was never really interested in the experience.
42) Final Fantasy VII Remake
Streaming games can be really, really fun, and Final Fantasy VII Remake was a wonderful game to stream. My friends helped me through it, something we’d started doing with The Last of Us Part II; we just sat down, talked about the game, and several of my buddies gave me advice on how to make builds and make use of the game’s system.
What can I say about Final Fantasy VII Remake?
I chose it because a buddy on twitter said he was really curious to get a take on the remake from someone who hadn’t played. That sounded like me, and I was curious about the game, so I figured hey, why not? Final Fantasy XV wasn’t great, but VII looked to be improving on the system.
So I, as someone with absolutely no emotional attachment to this series… was absolutely blown away.
Would it be nice if I had a lengthy essay to write on this game? Absolutely. Do I have words? Sorta. But right now, I am not in possession of a critical mind, not when it comes to Final Fantasy VII Remake. What I possess instead is joy. Pure, unadulterated joy, meeting all these excellent characters for the first time, bamboozled by twists and turns I barely understand. The emotional stakes are always clear; the fights rich with a panache that Final Fantasy XV, the only other Final Fantasy I have ever played, never manages to achieve.
This game is a monster of an engine, firing on twenty-four cylinders of pure, uncut Square Enix excellence. This game isn’t just a good game, it’s a fucking stellar one.
It’s not often that I am so taken by a game; when I saw my friends going “oh man I can’t wait to play this all over again,” I did not expect to feel the same way, but here I am, thinking, still, about going back to play it.
And yet nowhere in that is my critical brain seeming to function. I cannot give you seven thousand words on its level design or thirteen thousand words on what a masterpiece is, as I’ve done before. I do not have anything; my head has not arrived at the station yet. I am still barreling down the tracks at a thousand miles an hour, and I don’t want to get off the ride yet.
I have an affection for these characters who I’d only ever seen as the avatars of annoying teens online before. I want their story to continue; I cannot wait to see where it goes. Honestly, the only complaint I can think of is that Tifa is so fun to play it bummed me out that the game requires Cloud to be the party leader, rather than letting you set whoever makes you feel is the most fun to play.
Final Fantasy VIIR did something else to me. It finished what Digimon Cyber Sleuth had started back in like 2015 — it finally made me really, really want to start getting into JRPGs.
43) Nier Automata (PC)
I think the fanbase can be annoying as heck, and I think their claims that Yoko Taro is some sort of video game super genius are overextended; in a way, I’m reminded of the Marvel stans who say everything Marvel does is somehow exceptional or Oscar winning, except that Nier Automata is not a mediocre game; instead, it is a very good video game that shows what happens when the publishers don’t focus test your game into oblivion. It’s what happens when you put an actual writer at the helm, rather than somewhere in the back. When you give someone who excels at what he does the reins, then Yoko Taro will give you something that is fuckin excellent.
Don’t get me wrong; I think Final Fantasy VII Remake is the better game — better looking, more interesting, more compelling, more fun to play — and I went into Nier because I’d finally decided that streaming FF7R was so fun I wanted to stream another game on my backlog (the white board system was really helping me seek out games I had started but not finished, and Nier Automata was one of them).
I did not have the emotional response that many did with Automata, because it requires you to care about 9S, and I just don’t. 9Simp, as he should be known, just isn’t ever likable enough. Plus he’s a robot, so I don’t care.
Maybe it’s because I just can’t ever accept the idea that robots have feelings — they’re simulations of feelings. Approximations. I just… my brain doesn’t buy it. It actively rejects this. I cannot see fictional entities who are like people as having some relation to people; what I mean by this is… certain kinds of fiction ask us to accept a premise about the nature of humankind by presenting a race that is, say, morally superior to us, setting them in the same world as humans, and in so doing, it has to make humanity look worse than it is in order to succeed.
As someone who has never stopped loving and being in awe of the humanity all around me, I cannot ever emotionally buy into this; I do not see the actions of the robots in Westworld as a righteous act of liberation but software going horribly wrong. Making the humans as horrible as possible to make the fictional entities that don’t exist in the real world look good strikes me as misanthropic; the metaphor is lost.
That’s not exactly what Taro is doing here — he is presenting characters who ostensibly have no emotions but actually have a Whole Heck Of A Lot boiling under the surface and the game is fundamentally about that. It’s about self-sacrifice. And yet… it’s oddly disconnected. Like, self-sacrifice is the fundamental theme at the end of the game, and it is revealed very late in the game that 2B cares for 9S despite basically being there to assassinate him if shit goes wrong and this has been a repeating cycle; there are elements of self-sacrifice in the story. But the self-sacrifice at the end doesn’t really seem to connect with the other themes of the story, which is essentially “robots try to understand what it means to be human.” Perhaps the idea is “to be human is to sacrifice one’s self for the love of another,” but… the argument just isn’t that coherent. The game does not present and build an argument.
The story works on an emotional level, but it’s trying to be intellectual and it is lauded for being intellectual, and I actually don’t think it works as an intellectual work. I think that’s where it’s at its weakest. It’s at its strongest when you are hanging with Emil or talking to Engels or dying because you ate a fish. It can be funny and charming and weird and interesting, with some really cool twists and reveals.
Referencing Marx and Engels isn’t the same as telling a story through the lens of Marx and Engels; citing smart shit don’t make you smart. I just can’t say I feel as if the game is so much smart as it is creative. I think it’s kind of a mess, but I had fun and thought it had strong emotions.
Oops, kinda gave a little bit of the essay I’m doing on this one away.
Suffice it to say, I loved Nier Automata, just… more because it was flawed and interesting and trying so hard to be smart, and not because it was a beautifully executed and endearing package.
But Final Fantasy 7 is human as hell and I don’t feel like “what does it mean to be human?” is a valid or interesting question to begin with. The game works on a dramatic level; when it postures at philosophy, it suckers in people who are desperate for games to be Taken Seriously As Real Art. I think you should take Yoko Taro at his words — sometimes the gratuitous ass shot is there because he likes ass shots, and what’s wrong with that?
44) Uncharted 4 (PS4)
The first hour happens roughly like this (I last played the intro in 2016 so bear with me):
- you are on a boat with a stranger and then there’s like an explosion or some shit and you cut to
- the past, where nate is a kid and it turns out he has an older brother, sam, who he has never mentioned before. cut to.
- the future, which is before any of the other uncharted games, where nate and sam are trying to rob a place — the game is still tutorializing, but finally, it feels like a proper uncharted game. and then things go south and sam is killed.
- sam shows up in the modern day, where nate is ‘playing it safe’ and is sad about his life, because it turns out he did not die.
Uncharted 4 is by the numbers.
Pretty? Absolutely, the art team at Naughty Dog is great. Expensive? You bet. Repeating a lot of simplistic encounters over and over again without significant mechanical depth? Yeah, it’s Uncharted; don’t go in expecting great gameplay.
But like… it just has a lot of events to impart to you information you need to know without any real sense of why those events should be placed one after the other. There’s a glimpse of emotional resonance after a dramatic setpiece in the game, where Nate is racing on a car in a car chase, trying to protect his brother from other cars, and the two of them, finally having escaped, take a step back to relax and laugh. Cool, nice response to the tension we just had. Obviously something has to come ruin it.
…that something is Elena, though. Yes, for whatever reason, Nate decided to lie to Elena (because I guess Uncharted 3 never happened?) and act like she can’t handle herself and went off without her, and she’s tracked him down to go “you lied to me. now i gotta catch a flight home” because apparently you can’t just call someone on the phone to be like “damn bro, you lied?” Somehow, even though her husband is just a diver for a salvage company in a small house, she has enough money to just hop on a flight to the other side of the planet, somehow get into his locked hotel room, and wait for him to dramatically go “I knew you’d be back! you lied!” and then just… leaves.
It doesn’t make sense for Elena — Drake has done this to her in three games now, she knows he does this, and she also is pissed because she wants to be included. There’s no real establishing why Elena wouldn’t want Drake to do the adventures she desperately wants to do.
The scene happens because Robert McKee’s Story (which series bossman Neil Druckmann has professed to love) is basically like “yeah so you need to have The Turn happen here.” So it does. It’s by the numbers, like I said. I detest the game for this, for the way Sony and Naughty Dog messages it, tries to control the discourse, make everyone think it’s the greatest thing ever when it’s really about as compelling as a bad direct-to-dvd Treat Williams movie.
Like The Last of Us II, it is “playable.” I was thinking about streaming it because when I was playing TLOU2 I was like “oh I should probably finish Uncharted 4.” So I did. It was a waste of time.
45) Horizon: Zero Dawn (PC)
It was surprising when Horizon: Zero Dawn came to PC, but boy, was that exciting. I’d given the game a start on PS4 years prior, but hadn’t managed to stick with it.
Sometimes I need to shut my brain off and play gigantic open world video games where I run around and fight big monsters and Horizon: Zero Dawn is absolutely that game.
Lifting heavily from dinotopia, Horizon separates itself from most open world ‘generic do-stuff games’ by making most of the actual enemies you fight towering robots; it adds a sense of real scale to the world that makes combat feel more mentally stimulating than the rest.
Of course, that mental stimulation meant I wasn’t getting my “do open world checklist shut brain off” vibes and I’d have to get them from somewhere else. But boy oh boy, at 60 frames a second, this game really starts to click. The epic scale of the dinosaur fights are awesome.
Less awesome is… well… the world. It’s basically just “wooo what if everyone was supertsitious except for our precocious protagonist who shares a more modern worldview for literally no reason other than she is an avatar for the protagonist and thus has to have views similar to theirs wooooo!”
Look, I get it; it’s hard to make a game about someone who is superstitious and deeply religious when the player is not. But it also means we end up with the same kind of story where the perspective feels like it’s looking down on everyone who doesn’t know better. In the background, always a sense of “judging you…” The vibes are off-putting.
Still, I enjoyed the game. Story is like, bleh, whatever; apocalypses focused on “what caused the apocalypse” aren’t that interesting to me because like… the nature of the event does not reverse the event. Quests are mostly dull fetch quest type things… like… ehnh.
One thing I’ve noticed is that over the past few years, Horizon keeps having openings for senior writers and people who proudly announced going to work for Guerilla games are quietly moving on to other projects. That… doesn’t say good things; I suspect a lot of great talent is trying to write interesting stuff and management keeps stopping them from doing it.
All of this is to say that the game is uneven; it is not a compelling environment or great story, but it is a fantastic world (except for the cauldrons imo) with some genuinely cool enemies (except for the graboids, who are more aggressive than other monster types, not giving you the room to breathe you can get from even the T-Rex).
You should buy it on PC to support more Sony games coming to PC. If you haven’t played it, fighting dinosaurs is quite fun. Don’t come in expecting something as fresh and invigorating as The Witcher 3 and you’ll have a great time.
46) Tokyo Mirage Sessions (Switch)
It is kind of weird that here I am, in September 2020, and I’m playing a Nintendo Switch release of a Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem collaboration that doesn’t have the rich and dark sensibilities of SMT and is instead somehow a JRPG about channeling Fire Emblem characters on your quest to be a pretty good popstar (your friend-but-not-girlfriend really has the dream of being the popstar, but her personality type is of that super shy afraid-of-everything sepai notice me type, rather than the usually gregarious, outgoing, high-energy persona that public entertainers tend to possess).
I realize that for most of you, this does not sound like A Doc Game.
This makes sense; I talk lots about shooters, I’ve often bemoaned how boring I find turn-based games, the subject matter does not seem to align with my interests. All of this is true.
However, what you wouldn’t have guessed by this thread (except for the part where I described my white board process) is that I was playing a lot of Persona 5 at this point, but sometimes I needed to lay in bed and play something, and I was still feeling something very Persona, and Persona is a spinoff of Shin Megami Tensei, of which Tokyo Mirage Sesssions also is.
Look, the story? It’s not great: basically, entities from some other dimension are attracted to Cool Vibes and then try to suck the vibes out of people. It turns out the plot has some stuff in common with elements of both Awakening and the original Fire Emblem, but that’s just stuff I found out by searching on wiki.
It is a strange game, and the first dungeon sucks, but… I still found it endearing, albeit simpler than something like Persona. The combat system is really cool — you basically take advantage of an enemy’s weakness, and if you do, your allies will follow it up with a combo attack. You can build incredibly lengthy chains of combos and end up taking out high level enemies. Combine that with a system where you get weapons, grind them up, inherit skills from those weapons, and use those skills as your ability, and you end up having a game that reminds me of my time with Digimon Cyber Sleuth and Persona in a very cool way.
Basically, what I’m saying is: if you like what Persona is laying down and understand that there’s no real life sim stuff here (though there are some quests about doing normal life stuff), I think you might like this game a whole lot. I certainly did.
47) Jedi: Fallen Order
I am so bummed out this game exists; normally, I oppose the idea of saying “a game shouldn’t exist” because the games industry is not often a zero sum game, but in this case, Jedi: Fallen Order is explicitly the reason that we did not get Titanfall 3.
A long time ago, there was a gaming website that announced it would be a New Type of Game Website, one where we talked more about the people in games than the mechanics and stuff. There’s been a lot of those, but this one has the distinction of being a site where an editor saw a tweet of mine thinking I had a pitch about something, asked me for a pitch… and then published an article that appeared to be butchering my pitch (rather than just paying me to write my own take) the next day and ghosted me after that. Kinda weird.
It also had a great interview with Vince Zampella, co-founder of Respawn, who was asked “why do your games feel so good?” and Vince said one of the most beautiful things ever, which was: “our games are input-driven rather than animation-driven, because great game feel is responsive.”
Jedi: Fallen Order, a game that, by this point, you might assume I dislike — and I actually liked it quite a bit — is not a game that feels response. It is a game where I have jumped forward and literally through an object I should have grabbed onto. It’s a game that just… feels sluggish and weird, rather than nice and precise like Nioh 2, which I’m playing now. That might be a weird comparison, but hear me out.
As a video game, Fallen Order is doing the AAA video game thing of “certain AAA video game leads only play like two video games and one of those games is Dark Souls and the other is probably Hearthstone or something.” Seriously, you’d be amazed at how many people I’ve met in high-up game circles who aren’t playing many games, but when they do, it’s Dark Souls and Hearthstone.
Early on, I fell off because, just… ugh. It was trying too hard to be Dark Souls, but it wasn’t as meticulous or precise about combat as Souls ever was — those character colliders are funky — but then along came The Whiteboard Protocol and suddenly I found myself going “why do I still have this installed on my computer? I should finish it.”
Turns out I liked it a great deal. Loved? No. But liked? Oh yeah. While the game’s first showing isn’t really good (the spectacular opening level is a sight to behold, and then they drop you off on a planet that’s just being Dark Souls Hard and it’s kind of annoying). I bought it sight unseen because I trusted Respawn, and as a result, I am unlikely to buy a Respawn game again right away. I liked the game, but maybe not $60 worth of liked, especially with a backlog like mine. I was hesitant because I don’t like Jedi — the idea of people who have power because of their blood irks me.
So, take two things I don’t really like, kill Titanfall 3, and throw in some jank controls… and just why did I have fun?
I think it’s because as you level up, it stops being Dark Souls and becomes more of a “things can get hairy if you aren’t carfeul” game. It’s a bit more forgiving, and when you throw in all the metroidvania elements, my brain really starts getting into the route-planning and puzzle solving of it all. As soon as I stopped needing to worry about every fight and could focus on “how do I actually get through this space?” the game just began to blossom. I loved that.
48) Weedcraft Inc (PC)
So if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s this: I love management games. I don’t talk about them much because I don’t really know what to say; you are building a thriving economic engine. Money go in as you respond to existing market forces, then money go out.
The problem with this kind of game is that you often end up in a scenario where decisions made 10, 20, 60 minutes ago are having a dramatic negative effect on you and you have to reload. It got bad enough with Weedcraft that, despite all the fun I had been having, I finally just grabbed Wemod and did some cheats so I could dig myself out of a financial hole and sell my weed.
I think a bit too much happens at times, which doesn’t help the game at all. Want to recommend, but the game doesn’t need to constantly have people moving in and out of every location while competing with you, surely?
Neat idea, imperfect execution.
49) Little Nightmares
Little Nightmares is almost perfect. The controls aren’t, but… as someone who does not like sidescrollers, let me tell you that this is absolutely one of the essential horror games. I just started Little Nightmares II, and a film industry friend who was watching me said “these guys have some of the best understanding of staging and cinematography I’ve ever seen in games.”
This shit rules. Get it.
50) Persona 5 Royal (PS4)
I wish this was on PC or Xbox or literally anything other than PS4, but it was on PS4, so that’s where I had to play it.
What is there even to say about this game? I feel like if I don’t write at length about my whopping 145+ hour save, you’ll think it didn’t have such a powerful impact on me that I looked at that daunting number and went “yeah, I should do this again.”
If Final Fantasy VII was the game that finally got me into my rhythm with JRPGs this year, then Persona 5 Royal was the game that cemented my fascination with the genre. Truth is, I love anime; haven’t watched much in years, but I grew up on this stuff. It was a big part in helping me break free of a lot of the indoctrination I’d been put through as a child, it helped me learn a lot about different approaches to storytelling, and it took me to all sorts of crazy worlds I’ve never been.
Persona 5 Royal is the first game I’ve played where the promise of “an anime but as a video game” actually seemed to work instead of just doing “black outlines and a shitty toon shader.”
I’m writing a whole gosh dang essay on Persona 5 and Yakuza 7’s quest design and how it works in ways that games often don’t, and I don’t want to give it away, but let me tell you… I’m pretty sure Persona 5 Royal was my game of the year last year. Yeah. Wild, I know, but gosh… it’s so so so good. This is a game about endearing you to all the characters, about showing you why you should give a fuck, about compelling you forward with the pure power of raw emotion. When you put a gun to the evil god’s head at the end of the game, boy oh boy, is it the culmination of everything you could have ever dreamed.
Is it perfect? No, but man, it’s so close.
Yeah. I think this was my game of the year.
51) Assassin’s Creed Rogue (PC)
Remember when I said I really did need to play a big mindless open world game?
Assassin’s Creed Rogue was that. It was nice to go back to Assassin’s Creed’s ‘perfected’ model that began with Assassin’s Creed 1, rather than the modernized Witcher 3-clones of Origins and Odyssey; what a neat little game this was. I liked all the sailing and fishing and stuff a lot. Got no interest in the actual Assassin’s Creed stuff. At a brisk 25 hours, this was a game I played in a matter of days to decompress (but I’d started and had like 10 in already before falling off the game — yet another casualty of my adhd saved by the whiteboard method™).
Good game. A fun time. Not a lot to say.
52) Terminator Resistance (PC)
I do not think Teyon is known for making great games — looking at their list, I’m seeing lots of shovelware, and I have literally no idea how IP holders would allow them to do what they did with the brand — like the poorly-animated sex scene and the aftermath pictured above.
But… hold on… this game is interesting as heck. It’s a first person shooter where you make decisions that can have significant impact (it seems) on the outcome of the game; people died because of things I did. The quests can be interesting, getting hunted by Terminators is thrilling, and it’s got this… like… System Shock-esque approach to the world and picking up stuff that is utterly compelling.
Buy this one at full price.
You’ll cringe at the sex scene but the rest of the game was totally worth it. Neat stuff, ambition within a limited budget. I had a great time with it.
52) Ace Combat Zero (PS2)
This meme is better than anything I could ever do, even though I tried my best.
Sometimes you don’t want a game to end, but it has to. I waited so long before finally giving in and just fuckin going. Ace Combat 2 was absolutely worth it. A masterpiece, and the second best game in the series after 5.
53) Tales from Off-Peak City vol. 1 (PC)
It’s rare that a game can manage to be aesthetically compelling despite looking like Cosmo D’s games, but somehow, the mad genius keeps making absolutely brilliant stuff. I am not going to say much, because it is difficult to describe; you are in a place and you have to do things, usually solving puzzles, but it isn’t really a puzzle game. Sometimes you talk to people. Other times you make pizzas. Other times you learn some really, really weird stuff.
I do not understand what is happening, but it feels like something totally coherent is happening just outside the periphery of my vision… something very weird.
54) The Norwood Suite (PC)
After finishing Tales from Off-Peak City, I was told that “The Norwood Suite” was just as good — and, more importantly — tied in, so I needed to play both. I had been avoiding The Norwood Suite for a while because years before, a former friend had told me it was absolute garbage and I shouldn’t waste my time with it; that person was absolutely wrong; The Norwood Suite is a spectacular work of art. This is game design at its most creative and interesting. Phenomenal stuff.
I don’t have a lot to say because the games are short and to discuss any specific thing in detail would give it all way. Please, don’t make the mistake I did; play the shit out of this as soon as you are able.
55) Daemon x Machina (PC)
A former Switch exclusive, Daemon x Machina is… not… good. If you’re into games about fast mechs fighting each other, then this is the game for you; it even has some great boss fights, and at a butter-smooth sixty frames per second, it is absolutely brilliant.
The story is absolutely nonsense, and not in like a “wow I really love this stupid bullshit” way but in a “my eyes just glazed over and I passed out and woke up with drool on my chin and now I’m fighting… a mech butler???”
Do not play this for the story, play this for mech go zoom.
56) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (X1)
I don’t actually have much to say about Hellblade; Ninja Theory is some of the best in the biz when it comes to facial animation. They made a big deal about all the research they’d done into taking mental health stuff seriously, but I couldn’t help but feel kinda… distant throughout the experience. Senua wants to bring back the only person who made her feel like she wasn’t crazy, but she can’t do that. The ghosts she’s fighting aren’t really there — it was nice that this wasn’t a twist at all and we knew up front that Senua is ill.
As a game, the combat is pretty simplistic — I’m reminded of something like Ryse; incredible production value, but a lack of depth and encounter variety that leaves the game lacking. It is absolutely gorgeous, and nothing feels truly awful to play, but it just… I don’t think I could ever call it a favorite, you know?
57) Silent Hill Downpour (360)
The thing about Budget Alan Wake is that like all post-team-silent games, it’s following in the footsteps of the wise instead of seeking what they sought, which means it’s a bad homage to Silent Hill 2, right down to the very misguided interpretation of Silent Hill 2 as being a story about guilt when it so clearly is not that.
Look, catholic guilt is fucking boring for horror. I’ve said it before. Even linked the piece where I argued against it.
But… as a budget Alan Wake? This was kind of cool. Bit jank, not all the quests were good, but it had some genuinely cool eerie things going on, some fun puzzles, some great ideas… but it clearly wanted to BE Silent Hill 2, right down to having its own version of Pyramid Head (not getting what Pyramid Head is).
You have to hold RB to run and that actually broke one of my controllers, which absolutely hurt; that was my Elite White, and Microsoft doesn’t even sell bumpers for those anymore.
58) Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)
I want to write a whole essay on this; what I’ll say now is that this is probably the best Sony exclusive of the generation, up there with Days Gone. Like all of the Major Sony Exclusives, it’s trying to get mindshare by Being Like Other Popular Things People Like and then suggesting proximity means excellence through osmosis… but the thing is, the actual gameplay is fucking stellar. The art design is astonishing. There are powerful moments in the game (like every time you walk up to an enemy camp bellowing “FACE ME!”).
I loved Ghost of Tsushima but I didn’t love the kinda weird xenophobia it does, nor did I like how the devs were like “meh we know our costumes are from the cowboy era and our story is from the medieval times but who’s really gonna know the difference?” It’s kinda weird to just count on your audience being ignorant or racist to get away with ‘cool armor.’
Still, really, really fun to play.
I will write SO MUCH MORE on it later.
59) The Coma 2: Twisted Sister (PC)
I think I got this one in a Humble bundle, and I played it because I was testing games to see if I would enjoy them. I certainly did not expect to enjoy The Coma 2, the sequel to The Coma, a game I have yet to play, but there I was, slicing through The Coma 2 like a shark through water. It’s an excellent Korean horror game that works perfectly on its own, with some of the most chilling sound design I’ve ever heard in a game. I routinely found myself going “oh shit” and noping the fuck out of places.
Kinda surprised I don’t have more to say; it’s really, really solid and worth your time.
60) Resident Evil Revelations 2 (X1)
I was still in a mood for a horror game, so I blitzed through Resident Evil Revelations 2. The first game was made for the 3DS, but this one was made for modern consoles… and released as an episodic game? Not sure that was the right play, but the game itself was really satisfying; it’s sort of the budget end of the Resident Evil series, but I kinda loved it. Really fun to play, no frills, no nonsense.
62) Kingdom Hearts 1.5 (X1)
The next game I found myself streaming was Kingdom Hearts 1.5 — as part of a complete series playthrough — and as I played it, it became obvious why so many people fell in love with Kingdom Hearts all those years ago. It’s not just that the game is preying on your nostalgia for Disney and Final Fantasy, it’s that the game itself is this emotionally intense “I’d do anything for my friends” bullshit with some of the most powerful “get hype” moments I’ve come across in a game. It’s… not a great platformer, an okay platformer, and a game that is relentlessly, aggressively charming all the way through.
I think I have more to say, but I do not have more to say right now. It’s percolating.
63) Marvel’s The Avengers (PC)
I gave this game an F on my completion list — I personally try to avoid telling you the scores I give when I give ’em, but this is an F, like The Last of Us II, so here you go. Picked it up because a friend had it and wanted to play co-op, and I thought I’d be there to support him, but that never panned out. It’s just… it’s not good. The storytelling is ‘flattened’ the way a lot of post-MCU games are. There’s a blandness to it, an obsession with the Inhumans (who, again, aren’t the cool Inhumans of the comics, but some people who got superpowers from a farting Celestial buried under San Francisco.
None of the imagination that made Marvel comics exciting is here, and we haven’t seen a lot of that in comics for the past ten years. Everything is gravitating towards this sort of toothless MCU type thing and it’s just… I dunno, this isn’t why I fell in love with Marvel growing up.
As a loot game, it doesn’t make sense — this is a hero shooter and would almost definitely work better as a gacha. The structure is baffling — it’s a blend that just doesn’t work, and if you told me leadership had no idea what kind of a game they were making when they set out, I’d believe you. If you told me Marvel had lots of notes and those notes punched all its teeth out, I’d believe you too.
While some of the art design is absolutely stellar, that’s just about its only redeeming value. This is a long way from the last Crystal Dynamics game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, a game I loved so much I actually 100%ed it, something I almost never do. Here, I wanted to be done as quickly as possible.
64) Necrobarista (PC)
I’m not going to say anything. I am simply going to tell you that there are few games that make me envious of the talents of the writers, and Damon Reece is one of the best writers I know.
The game made me cry. Like not a full on ugly cry, but a sitting there rubbing my eyes and going “god dammit, god fucking dammit.”
I want you to buy Necrobarista, play it, and review it on Steam, okay?
65) Pikmin 3 (Switch)
Nintendo has this problem where they keep making these really charming games that I find myself having to push through to complete; the charm is nice, but the actual game just… kinda falls apart.
Pikmin 3 is therefore Nintendo’s best game, because I played it all the way through with basically no interruptions. It’s not a masterpiece of storytelling, it’s just a… game from a genre I cannot really ~define~. I know some people say “this is an RTS,” and I suppose it could be, but… it doesn’t feel right to say that either. An RTS has you building buildings. A Pikmin is about figuring out how to get through levels by organizing units and figuring out how to use your time efficiently.
I loved it, but I don’t have a lot of words to say either. Like Necrobarista, I’d rather just insist you pick it up.
66) Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I know I said Persona 5 Royal was my game of the year but also… how could it not be Yakuza: Like a Dragon, henceforth referred to as Yakuza 7, because it is, in fact, Yakuza 7.
I love this game. I loved this game so much that while I didn’t 100% it — my save ended at 69 hours — I did do every. single. sidequest. I view myself as saving a bunch of it for later, like when I save my pizza and toss it in the fridge so it’ll be cold and tasty tomorrow morning. Yakuza 7 is an excellent game, a deviation from what you’d expect out of a Yakuza game, because it’s a turn-based Dragon Quest-like somehow… but it works! It works so. dang. well!!
Play this. That Persona 5 piece I mentioned? I have a lot to say about Yakuza 7 in it, so I’ll refrain from saying more here.
Hot damn was this good.
67) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (PC)
So, I’m doing a piece on Danganronpa, a game I “played” this year by hanging out in Discord with friends and talking through the campaign, making guesses, trying to solve puzzles, but ultimately, not actually playing on my computer. That was my buddy Bulk at the controls, and I was just along for the ride.
Danganronpa made me really want to give Phoenix Wright a try, so I played it off and on when our friends were available, and boy howdy, is it good. Technically, you could call it a point and click adventure, I guess, or a visual novel, but none of those things really work to describe Phoenix Wright. I’ve been told it comes from a long line of “parser” games, but even that doesn’t quite feel right to me. I dunno.
What I do know is that the game was the funniest I played, full of laughs and “holy shit” moments in equal measure. It’s easy to see why people are die-hard fans of the series. I have just started the second game and I cannot wait to continue.
Also I didn’t take screenshots, so here you go, a phone cam pic.
68) Star Wars Squadrons (PC)
There is something magnificent about zipping through the space skies in an X-Wing, and Star Wars Squadrons definitely pulls that off. The controls… ehnh. The mission objectives? Definite enhnhh (not enough variety). The writing? Oh massive ugghhh.
There isn’t a lot for me to say other than “it strikes me as weird that an organization that has historically been coded in Star Wars as a white supremacist organization like The Empire would suddenly have an extremely hot, diverse group of pilots who it never really does enough to challenge for being members of, y’know, The Empire.”
The problem with wanting to show both sides of a conflict, like people do in WWII games, is that there’s a sort of implicit knowledge that like, yeah, the player is playing for the bad guys, but the game shies away from just letting the player be the bad guy. It has to sympathize, to go “oh well, not all nazis, I guess.” And I think that undercuts the emotional stakes of the game.
If you want an excellent dogfighter, play Ace Combat 4, 5, 0, 6, and 7, in that order. If you need to feel what it’s like to pilot an X-Wing, well, this is the best game for that right now.
69) God of War (PS4)
I got so bored with God of War early on that I gave up and decided to go back and finish Company of Heroes. When I booted it up this year — again, thanks to The Whiteboard Method, I found myself picking up games I didn’t necessarily hate but wanted to see through — and what I played… ehnh.
It’s not the masterpiece everyone picks it out to be. It picks up a lot once you find the talking head. I don’t quite buy the part with the guy from Lost and his mom, Odin’s Giant Waifu. I think the one-shot camera approach actively harmed the game, in part because it can never achieve scale the way other God of War games did. I definitely hated how they reused the same boss fight about 8 different times in a game, making it objectively worse than Halo 5, the worst Halo game, and one of the worst games I have ever played.
And when you get the Blades of Chaos back… hoo boy. That’s good stuff.
But the dialog is fuckin great, characters are dealing with a lot of roiling emotions… it’s like a really solid 8 out of 10 that might have had me going “huh, this is pretty dang neat” if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone and their mom was acting like this was excellent.
God of War isn’t even in the top 20 games I played this year. It might not even be in the top 30.
70) Vane (PC)
I loved the serene beauty (though not always so serene) of Vane, though I can’t say I really understood what was happening throughout. It is a visual feast. I think there may be an instinctual desire to compare it to a Fumito Ueda game, but to me, that’s a mistake; it’s more like a more interesting version of Journey or Abzu.
A Fumito Ueda game is something else.
71) The Last Guardian (PS4)
Realizing that I had played Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for the first time this year, I decided it was time to play The Last Guardian.
I see why people bought a PS3 for this one, but I also see why it had to release on the PS4.
The secret to a game by Fumito Ueda is this: you travel through places that feel as though they had some logical, real world use, and you look back behind you to see how far you’ve come, as opposed to following weenies forward. But the most important element of an Ueda game is this:
how tight your butt cheeks clench as you jump across a chasm
A powerful, emotional, butt-clenching experience. Perfection.
72) Kingdom Hearts: Re Chain of Memories (X1)
Ugh. No. But we had to, for the story. I did not like the card deck system.
73) Kingdom Hearts 2 (X1)
I see why Kingdom Hearts has its… very distinct reputation as being confusing bullshit. This is absolutely the game that made it into confusing bullshit. Oh sure, Chain of Memories had some stupid bullshit, but this had to complicate everything with Nobodies and Organization 13 and Riku being an adult and Roxas just existing at all but not following the rules of other Nobodies and arrrghg.
Best playing game in the series so far. Fuck yeah.
So. That was 2020. My game of the year was Genshin Impact.
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