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Your game of the year, not released this year - 2021 edition


Jamie John
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Control could quite possibly be the best game I've played this year.

 

I went into it expecting a bog standard third person shooter, and there is a bit of that, but the Oldest House and overall style and atmosphere of the game elevate it to something much more special. I think I finished it in January and still think about bits of it from time to time. It's brilliant.

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Bought a PS5 this year and I'll second Astro's Playroom. Charming, inventive and a perfect Sony nostalgia trip.

 

I also played Tales of Vesperia again this year and it's still the best game in the series by a mile, way better than the one they released this year. I'd go as far as to say it's one of the best traditional JRPGs ever.

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428: Shibuya Scramble (PS4)

 

Here’s what I wrote in the completed games thread, and it really is fantastic.

 

Absolutely brilliant visual novel; where the story is viewed from the perspective of several characters. Choices made by one have a knock on effect on the storyline of others. You will end up with a lot of bad endings; and selecting the correct choice is admittedly largely trial and error. Think of it as more of a flow chart where selecting the correct answer allows you to flow forward. I even went back to get all the extras and unlock the Platinum trophy after finishing the story, which is well worth doing, because the minor characters side stories are as brilliantly bizarre as anything from the Yakuza series (which is high praise indeed). Great stuff.

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39 minutes ago, gossi the dog said:

428: Shibuya Scramble (PS4)

 

Here’s what I wrote in the completed games thread, and it really is fantastic.

 

Absolutely brilliant visual novel; where the story is viewed from the perspective of several characters. Choices made by one have a knock on effect on the storyline of others. You will end up with a lot of bad endings; and selecting the correct choice is admittedly largely trial and error. Think of it as more of a flow chart where selecting the correct answer allows you to flow forward. I even went back to get all the extras and unlock the Platinum trophy after finishing the story, which is well worth doing, because the minor characters side stories are as brilliantly bizarre as anything from the Yakuza series (which is high praise indeed). Great stuff.

 

 

Matt Castle was talking about this on The Backpage Pod recently. I may have to check it out.

 

1 hour ago, HarryBizzle said:

Control could quite possibly be the best game I've played this year.

 

I went into it expecting a bog standard third person shooter, and there is a bit of that, but the Oldest House and overall style and atmosphere of the game elevate it to something much more special. I think I finished it in January and still think about bits of it from time to time. It's brilliant.

 

I think I might have to go back to Control, especially now the super duper edition is out on Xbox Series and PS5. I originally played it shortly after completing TLOU Part 2, where everything paled in comparison, and ended up abandoning it, but I should probably give it another chance. I remember it being very shiny and the shooting feeling lovely.

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Bronze Award - Return of the Obra Dinn

I’ve fancied this game for so long - it should have been right up my street as the premise is so intriguing. The graphical style put me off, though. 
 

I finally bought it for just over £11 the other day and, five and a bit hours later I’d finished it with all fates successfully solved. I still think it’s bloody ugly and wish it had better graphics so you could see some of the details on show, but as a story, as a detective game, as an engaging experience it is amazing and I’m so glad I finally got round to it. 
 

 

Silver Award - Stellaris

Make space great again, and boy did they! I bought this at release and never played it. For some reason here we are, five and a half years later and I randomly decided to install it and give it a go. Since the other day I’ve put about twenty hours in, bought all the DLC, watched dozens of videos on YouTube, read guides, joined the Reddit and I am STILL shit at the game but boy, do I love it. What other game would let you play as a species of carnivorous radishes with a hive mind hell bent on conquering the galaxy? 

 

Gold Award - Dead by Daylight

I can’t remember why installed this back in March. I was on a break from world of Warcraft and just fancied something new. I found it on gamepass and thought I’d give it a go, expecting to uninstall it after 30 mins like I do with most gamepass games (there’s definitely a discussion to be had about the value you put on “free” games!). But I found myself playing and playing. I loved it. So I bought it on steam and then bought all the dlc, every killer, every survivor. I then started watching people play it on twitch. Then I started playing it on twitch. I met a great little community of people I play with regularly, I’ve had an absolute blast and there’s no signs of stopping even after almost 400 hours. 
 

Dead By Daylight has hooked me (pun intended, if you know, you know) like no game has since world of Warcraft. I can see me playing it for years to come. 
 

Honourable mentions - Planet Coaster and Planet Zoo

These two games get honourable mentions because I really enjoy both of them. They’re ridiculously complex, you can build or design pretty much anything you can think of and the learning curve is steeper than a roller coaster drop, but they’re incredible, incredible park sims. 
 

Planet Coaster is great but Planet Zoo pips it for me because my son, who is animal mad, has taken a real shine to it, so we play it together. He draws out zoo layouts or habitat ideas and then I try to build them. He will sit there and watch me battle the controls for hours to build his dream panda habitat or grey seal underwater viewing experience. 

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It's been a pretty good year for this, for me. A top three, then!

 

Number 3, aka. The Best Game Made To Be Named After A Max Martin Song - Tell Me Why

 

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Not the best 'narrative game' I played all year, nor its developers' best game. But certainly the best mainstream game with a trans main character, or indeed to actually involve a meaningful trans storyline (never mind use it well, and with subtlety).

 

The mystery was too easily solved (Episode 3 ended up feeling like a stretched out version of one of those moments in Phoenix Wright where you know who and howdunnit and just want your moron lawyer to catch up already; and the bit where the developers felt the need to make explicit the link between the storybook characters and in-world characters showed a keen lack of respect for the audience which might explain why the plotting falls down on that side), and some of the character responses were too bombastic.

 

But. In its quiet moments the game really shines. Exploring rooms, discussing what you find with your sibling; experiencing a challenging homecoming; confronting, coming to terms with and (in some cases) connecting with other people in the township - when the game exposes its softer side it gives a compelling world to explore.

 

Number 2, aka. The Best Shooter To Be Made Newly Available On Modern Consoles - Binary Domain

 

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But of course, messieurs! There is nothing I can say here that hasn't been said a thousand times before. The best third-person shooter yet made. A delight. Will never get a sequel.

 

Game of the Year Not From This Year, aka. The Best Major Game To Deal With The Concept of Colonisation - Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

 

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There are no perfect solutions to the problems posited by PoE2's fraught expedition to the Deadfire archipelago, and that's to its strength.

 

This isn't a game which handwaves all concepts of doing good, that throws away all optimism, but it does a great job of interrogating the chosen one/outsider saviour plot and showing it up for what it is. It's a game filled with lively, likeable characters, not all of whom you'll be able to please. It's a game which gives you sympathetic people, working for monstrous factions, and then forces you to make hard choices. It's a game with pirates that manages not to romanticise them, without also making them humanoid monsters.* It's a game which throws competing colonizing factions your way that are as comprehensible as they are monstrous. It's a game whose native factions are presented with sympathy but without naivety.

 

It is a fantasy RPG that chooses a difficult topic and treats it with appropriate complexity and sincerity, and is all the more compelling for it. It isn't as unique or as witty as Disco Elysium, but it has surprising depths, and is well worth completing. Multiple times, in fact.

 

 

*"doing the Fallout 4", I believe they call that particular foible

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Honestly, this year has had some great new games, but for me it's been a year of going back to older stuff and enjoying them even more. The backwards compatibility of the new consoles has been absolutely wonderful as far as I'm concerned.

 

So, my games of the year are all really old and somewhat creaky.

 

But, with this in mind I've had so much fun over the last few months it's possibly been one of my fave years of gaming ever. 

 

I'd been planning on playing AC Valhalla, and it's pretty great. But then I thought I'd like to give Assassin's Creed 2 a bit of a replay, so bought the Ezio collection on the Xbox, and...well...I've been thoroughly hooked by it again. By today's standards it's creak as hell. The controls can suck hugely at moments, the combat is pretty ropey, and the traversal puzzles piss me off each and every time. 

 

Yet, I love it - it really feels like a game with a selfish determination to do what it wants to do, and screw everybody else. There's a huge amount of ambition in the game, that the years might have tried to dilute, but it's all there. The cities of Italy still impress enormously, and the way they 'pop' up into existence is a magnificent visual treat as far as I'm concerned. 

 

It all helps that the voice cast is - in general - some of the best in videogames. Sure, Nathan Drake is sort of phoning it in a bit, but he's fine. But Ezio and the various evil-doers of Renaissance Italy are wonderful.

 

 Gears of War 2 . I've played all the Gears games many times. There's something about them that I find endlessly entertaining. The recent FPS boost for the games made replaying them an easy choice. Absolutely transformative! Gear 2 is stunning at 60fps. It feels like it was always meant to be played that way. Sure, the palette can be pretty brown, but y'know...that's probably what happens in war . It's brilliant though. 

 

Metal Slug. I had somewhat of an urge to play something like this, and as I'd only ever played the first one in an arcade years and years ago, I thought I'd start off with the first. I obviously now want to play all the others, as this was/is magnificent. The 2d graphics are still some of the most wonderful I've ever seen - the animation on it all is so lavish and over the top, it's wonderful. Plus gameplay-wise it still really holds up. I mean, sure it's only shooting, jumping and getting from left to right, but they make it so much fun! What a game.

 

And I could go on, I really can. But, we'll leave it at that for now  
 

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Pubg 

No other game has such a high sense of reward with a win. The Adrenaline and dopamine overload in the end circle is insane . Unsurpassed ballistics that make every other online shooter feel sub par. 

 

4 years in and nothing scratches the itch for me like this game. 

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By a country mile it has to be Stardew Valley. Absolutely charming, addictive and mostly relaxing. I bought it as the kids had started playing it but they soon gave up. I think I’ve lodged over 200 hours into somehow, and still not finished the game on my main save.

 

Pure brilliance.

 

 

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NieR: Automata (2017) single-handedly restored my faith in the ability for Japanese anime-styled games to dazzle and delight. One of the most bleakly beautiful games I've ever played with a truly stunning soundtrack, crunchily satisfying PlatinumGames combat, all of the melodramatic angsty existentialist musings that Yoko Taro could muster from his fevered mind and without question the single most jaw-droppingly brilliant 'true' ending that could only have been pulled off within the medium of videogames and left me both devastated and overjoyed. An utterly unique and singular vision that lingered long in the memory.

 

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DOOM Eternal (2020) took the truly sublime combat loop from its predecessor and ramped it up to 11 while smashing you repeatedly in the face with its new mechanics until you adapted and recognised the undeniable truth that id Software can do it like no-one else.

 

Each room and arena was a glorious combat puzzle box that threw you in at the deep end and demanded that you utilised every tool at your disposal in order to survive. Initially it seemed overwhelming and as if id had added layers of needless convolution to what was already a beautifully balanced rhythmic dance of destruction. But then once it clicked it was like entering some transcendent flow state of over-the-top gorily violent retribution as you instinctively and effortlessly switched from super shotgun to chainsaw, ice grenade to flame belcher, glory kill to blood punch, never stopping for a moment's breath. Utterly sublime.

 

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Hades (at a stretch, considering it debuted on PS and Xbox this year). Nothing more I can add to what's been said many times over, here and elsewhere. A beautifully designed masterpiece that feels like the apotheosis of its genre, created by a developer with an innate understanding of the language of videogames. Few things can compare to the triumphant feeling of finally taking down [Redacted] for the first time. And then realising that the game has only just begun. Hellishly compelling brilliance, mate.

 

Hades.gif

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I've played nothing but Destiny 2 (2017) since the middle of August, so I guess that.

 

As a returning player, it's in the best state it's ever been in, and with an entire year of missed content and the most recent season, there's been so much do it just expands to absorb all my available gaming time each week.

 

As a new player I'd imagine it's one of the most confusing games ever, as the new player intro is barebones and the game punts many of the things you'd expect to find in such a game (like non-perfunctory inventory management, loadouts, finding people to play end-game activities with and, uh… explaining how anything in the game works) to third-party sites, tools and services.

 

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No Man's Sky: I'm almost 120 hours into a 3rd play through - this time on PC via Game Pass (my PS4 has started overheating if I play it via PSVR :( ). I just love pootling about the universe upgrading ships and kit.

 

What Remains Of Edith Finch: this might have been this year, again via Game Pass. Even if it wasn't, I've thought about it a lot since playing it. The fish factory just sticks with me. I thought I'd hate this, and the slow start didn't help, but it's a belter.

 

Spelunky 2: I don't like it as much as the first, but I've rinsed that of everything, and I haven't rinsed this yet. So I play the Daily Challenge every day, and maybe have another pop or two if I'm still in the mood. As with the original I'm still learning, even with something like 250 hours played.

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I'm going to write a round up of the year at some point, but a definite strong contender for me is Paper Beast.


I'm really surprised there wasn't more hype about it - one of the best VR games I've seen and Eric Chahi still at the top of his game 30 years after Another World.

 

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It was a real wtf moment for me when the Unity logo comes up in the credits*. Chahi's genius isn't just in technical skill, but his ability to breathe life and intention into the most lightly sketched characters.

 

*Yes I know that you can make technically ambitious games in Unity these days and the bad rap it gets is mainly snobbery, but Paper Beast really avoids that Unity 'feel'.

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Dead By Daylight: like @Doctor Shark I inexplicably started playing this this year (albeit on Game Pass) and fell for it hard. I genuinely have no idea why, because on paper it sounds tedious as fuck. One killer, four survivors. Survivors have to fix generators to escape, the killer has to murder them. That's it. And yet it's the most compelling thing I've played in an absolute age.

 

It helps that its core gameplay is strong and it has a roster of interesting characters to play. Well from a killer point of view. All the survivors are the same, but they keep adding new character dlc which come with new perks and that. Yeah, its awesome.

 

Return of the Obra Dinn: this had been talked about at length by others and it makes me feel stupid but it's utterly, utterly fantastic.

 

 

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35 minutes ago, MK-1601 said:

I'm going to write a round up of the year at some point, but a definite strong contender for me is Paper Beast.


I'm really surprised there wasn't more hype about it - one of the best VR games I've seen and Eric Chahi still at the top of his game 30 years after Another World.

 

 

I'd completely forgotten about this, to be honest. +1 for reminding me. On the never-ending list of games to buy it goes.

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32 minutes ago, Wiper said:

I tried! Being VR probably limited its appeal somewhat, but yeah, it deserves far more attention than it got. The best Alien World Experiencer around.

I'm sure you know this, but it is now available sans VR as the 'Folded Edition'. Almost wish it had been the other way around as I think it would have been more successful that way and fans would have gone back to play it through helmet cam.

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Number 3 - Wasteland 3. My second play through, this time with all the dlc. It’s amazing!
 

Number 2 - Mario Vs Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Got this at Christmas. Similar mechanics to the battles in Wasteland, with Mario and the Rabbids. What’s not to love?!

 

Number 1 - Halo 4. First time playing this, I’ve been working through the whole series chronologically and I was always under the impression that Halo 4 was a disappointment. I thought it was brilliant, awesome new weapons, vehicles and enemies. I’m playing Halo 5 now and not enjoying it nearly as much, although that might be to do with being limited to using an Xbox One X instead of my PC. Why won’t they port it?!!

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Been documenting sporadically my love affair with Red Dead 2. needless to say it still has it's hooks in me, just riding around and exploring, taking on the odd mission here and there. Plenty of mucking about on Gamepass with old stuff too, with a 100% ghost/no kill playthrough of Dishonored being probably my best 'revisit'.

 

On Switch, as others have said Disco Elysium I'll leave that with them (a game that has actually altered my own way of thinking. Simply incredible); but Axiom Verge was a joy from start to finish. Couldn't get into it at all on release (back when I bought it on Vita!) but once it clicked it didn't let go. An outstanding achievement and I'm savouring the sequel for when I'm next feeling a bit low or meh about what I'm playing.

 

Battle Brothers has been my most recent obsession - a fantasy mercenary company management sim with 4x combat and a tough, but not unfair challenge. You'll almost certainly lose and lose again but things going wrong create great stories so you don't really mind. It's currently on sale I believe for £13 or so and well worth it if the idea appeals.

 

 

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