Game of the Year 2021
A1. Forza Horizon 5
I've loved every second of the 150 hours driving I've put into this since release. It's not massively different from previous FH games but it's more refined. Similarly to how the car evolved once the basic template of engine, wheels, seats remains from the days of the Model T Ford but now with a variety of options available and purposes of use. This is a CARPG with a depth that is only hinted at on first play. They've thrown everything in and while there may only be 50% of the game that appeals to me on a regular basis it's so massive that it will continue to be my safe space, first choice, comfort zone game for possibly years to come. The underlying handling and driving feel is both easy to pick up and challenging to master. The infinite possibilities of the 500 cars, upgrades and tuning options alone allow for it to always offer something new to try, beat, master and unlock. The setting and visuals are among the best of the series. The subtle changes to each basic race every week make it a constantly evolving world to explore. As a driving game fan of many years I've seen a once essential genre almost disappear with multitudes of studios disappearing as the appeal of such games declined. The success of FH5 has been astounding to see and shows that racing games can still have a place in the generation to come.
A2. The Artful Escape
This was a joy from start to finish. From the humble folk roots to rocking out across the galaxies. A simple game that had me smiling with every power chord and cosmic story beat. I should have hated it's "hipster youth/ space oddysey" aesthetic. I should have critiqued it's simplicity and lack of difficulty. Many did. Some even hated the music. It captured me completely. Once the familiar tones of Carl Weathers arrived as the Rufus/George Carlin mentor to your Ziggy Stardust adventure arrived I was giddy. I'm never giddy.
A3. Halo Infinite
I haven't played much of this but a 12 person free for all session with a group of online friends who hadn't been into Halo for the best part of a decade was one of the gaming highlights of this year. The non stop chatter of cheers, swears, laughs and death threats from even the quietest among us had everyone declaring it was brilliant and one of the best online sessions we'd had in many years. For that alone Halo Infinite was a triumph snatched from the expectation of mediocrity that it was tarnished with after it's initial reveal. I've managed a short single player session where the gunplay is very satisfying and the open world looks to be very reminiscent of what made Halo so special 20 years ago.
Game of the Year (premiered anywhere pre-2021)
B1. Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)
It's got the whole world in it's hands. It's got the whole wide world..... Yes it's boring, yes it's not a game, but it's the most impressive piece of software possibly ever released. Everyone is mesmerised by flying over their house. then switches it off. However I discovered the real secret to MFS is to not look down but to go up. It's all about the clouds, the horizon, the weather, the sunrises, the sunsets, the lightning, the rain and the sheer spectacle of planet earth below you. Slap a relaxing soundtrack on, take a wee sightseeing plane up experience the ultimate chill out session of gaming I think you can have these days.
B2. MAD MAX (2015)
Thanks to it getting an FPS Boost I went back and finished this in 2021. From start to finish, mopping up 90% of all its content. It's simple and derivative, it's mechanics were already outdated when it launched in 2015. Simple Batman-esque combat and hundreds of near identikit camps to clear out of the same loot. However it has something that kept me compelled throughout a massive time sink. Since brexit happened I've been predicting out Mad Max future and the coming end of humanity. As grim as Mad Max is and some of it is really grim the joy of blowing up dune buggies full of warboys never gets old. The explosions and devastation you cause with your thunderstick harpoon is always spectacular combined with the photo mode where you can inspect the devastation and carnage contained in a single button press with car parts flying miles into the sky, bodies decapitated and always a glorious trail of fire and black smoke painted against the backdrop of a wasteland canvas that always looks incredible.
B3. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Red Dead 2 isn't just a game. It's a way of life. It's not GTA on horseback. It's not welcoming to the impatient. It's a slow burn novel that builds an appreciation of a time when we were better connected to nature and not everything was available at the press of a button. It's the living breathing world that no other open world game has come close to realising. It may just be a clever illusion of AI coding but combined with a level of detail and animation that I think we may never see bettered, RDR2 immerses the player with such a convincing and rich environment that once it gets you, is hard to let go of. It's my 2020/21 the world has gone to shit outside so I'm going to play this and forget about it all escape hatch.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Sound Design of the Year
Visual Design of the Year
Writing of the Year
Format of the Year
Publisher or Developer of the Year