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Alex Boniello’s Favorite Games (and other stuff) of 2021

Alex Boniello is here once again with a GOTY list, but also: he just classes the place up a bit!

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Alex Boniello is a wildly talented stage and screen actor, producer and musician. You can catch him currently in Whisper House.

Hello lovely Giant Bomb community. This marks my third year in a row that I have been asked to write a list for my favorite games site, and I’m happy to do so again! It has continued to be an incredibly weird year for us all, and while the situation in the NYC theatre scene is currently especially bleak because of Omicron, I’ve been thrilled to watch the theatre return, slowly but surely. To celebrate that, I’ve decided to share my favorite theatre moment of the year, as well as some other favorite moments across all forms of media, before hopping into my Games of the Year. I took a lot of comfort in enjoying these things and I wanted to share them. Because it’s my list!!! And I can!!!

Theatre of the Year: Hadestown’s first performance back

(Full Disclosure, I’m a co-producer on Hadestown)

So, I got to attend the final dress rehearsal of “Hadestown” on Broadway in September. This was the first public performance of a musical on Broadway since my entire industry was forced to shut down in March of 2020. It was an incredibly powerful night for me, and was also a weirdly anxiety provoking one. Would it feel the same? Would we be able to do this safely? Is it okay that I’m in this room full of people?

The answer was, and is “yes.” Being in a theatre full of masked and fully vaccinated audience members felt safe and felt incredible and was like a giant exhale that I had been holding in for nearly two years. There might be bumps along the way, but the industry that I love and have dedicated my life to will be okay.

Tabletop of the Year: ILLIMAT

So, it’s not a new game by any means, but I’ve been playing a lot of “Illimat” made by the brilliant minds at Together Studios and have been totally blown away by it. It feels like some sort of hidden, secret card game from a lost era. Highly recommend it to anyone looking for a very strategic and cerebral card game. It still hasn’t gotten old.

TV of the Year: Succession Season 3 Finale

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I won’t spoil any of this because it’s still pretty recent. But there’s a scene where the three Roy children are together, trying to connect with and comfort one another, and are completely unable to. They simply lack the tools, but continue to try. Scenes like this are why I’m an actor.

Film of the Year: West Side Story

Speaking of “why I’m an actor.” Jesus. This film is a total and complete knockout. Performances that are genuinely not to be believed by new and emerging talent, ushered in by STEVEN ACTUAL SPIELBERG. For a theatre lover and a lover of film, this whole entire project is an embarrassment of riches. One of the best musicals of all time adapted by one of the best directors we’ll ever have. See it, please!

Book of the Year: Song of Achilles

Another “yeah I know it’s not new” choice. If you have even a passing interest in Greek mythology, do yourself a favor and read this book. I thought I knew the story, and of course I did, but the writing is so excellent and the structure of the book is such that the ending still manages to pack a hugely emotional punch. Cried a lot. Couldn’t recommend more!

And now, the video games!

Honorable Mention: Breath of the Wild for the Second Time

Yeah, so I played Breath of the Wild to completion for the first time since 100%-ing it back at its original release.

My second playthrough has only confirmed— I think it’s the best video game ever made.

10. New Pokémon Snap

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This is the most I’ve enjoyed a Pokémon game in years. Like, including the mainline games. I’m not sure if that’s a depressing comment on the state of the franchise, or what, but I had a great time. I played the majority of it on a plane, which was maybe the perfect place for it, as it allowed me to really focus on all the fun and interesting areas the Pokemon would pop up. I don’t know that I would’ve been so sucked into the game if I had anything else to do but sit on the plane ride. Regardless, I still smile whenever I think about it. It feels like my childhood memories, but plays way better. It’s what a nostalgia grab SHOULD feel like!

9. Valheim

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Valheim came exactly when I needed it to, offering something chaotic and super fun for my friends and I to mess around with. I still remember the first time I saw an ogre coming at us from over a hill and just bursting out laughing at how totally unprepared we were to fight it. We got totally flattened. Another fun moment came from having myself and a few friends (including former GB employee Abby Russell!) build homes, and having twitch viewers vote on which house was the best. Like most of us, I fell off of it after a while, but I’m sure I’ll check in again sometime soon.

8. Rachet & Clank: Rift Apart

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Godddddd this game looks sooooooo goooooood. It also plays very well, had some legitimately good story beats, and delighted me beginning to end. It’s definitely helped by the fact that I didn’t have much to play on my PS5, but I don’t think that discounts it from being successful to me. It itched my brain real good in exactly the way I wanted it to. I think someone once said it’s “The Best PS2 Game Ever Made,” and I completely agree with this. It sounds like a back handed compliment, but it totally isn’t.

7. Hitman 3

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Look, we all know what the Hitman series does well at this point. There was no way the third and final(?) wasn’t going to show up on my list. I so sincerely appreciate the developers’ choice to keep trying to do new things with the series, even this late, and even when they already know what works. Can’t wait to see what that Bond series ends up being!

6. Shin Megami Tensei V

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This was my surprise of the year. Much to the chagrin of a lot of my pals, I had a nearly impossible time getting into “Persona 5: Royal.” It takes too long to get going, and it didn’t hold my interest because of the tremendously slow start. I felt like I was ready to have freedom in the game way sooner than the game wanted me to have it. I fell off it.

Enter SMTV, recommended by a friend. He said “this one lets you get right into it,” and boy howdy, does it!

Talk about punishing trials by fire. I loved it. Either you get into the battle system and follow the rules and adapt, or you get slammed into the ground. It’s my kind of JRPG experience.

This might be higher had I finished it, but I couldn’t squeeze it out by the end of the year.

Also, I promise I’ll try Persona 5 again at some point.

5. Deathloop

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There was a time where this was my GOTY. But then time passed. Time was unkind to this game. Ironic, given the game's general arc.

My complaints are the same as most: it doesn’t exactly fulfill the promise of its concept. Having only one real path to the ending, and having the game literally show you how to do it was frustrating for me. I dreamed about cracking that on my own, and the game basically handed it to me.

But frustrations aside, some of my favorite moments of the year came from this game. Here’s a cool one:

I was on my game ending loop, and was about to be able to finish, when an invading player dropped into my game. And then I realized I only have one life left. If I died, I’d have had to start my loop all over again. My opponent and I ended up across the map from one another, and found ourselves in a half hour long sniper war of attrition. It was SO tense, and so exciting. My palms were sweaty as heck while we played a high stakes game of chicken. Don’t worry. I won. :)

4. Metroid Dread

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Look, it’s a great game. I wish it were higher. So much of it is incredible. Some of those boss battles are off the charts good.

What kept me from placing it any higher was the game’s disinterest in organically pointing me in the right direction. I know that the butterflies let you know you’re on the right path, and I know that part of the genre involves figuring out your way forward… but I just don’t think shooting randomly at walls to find a way forward is for me anymore. And don’t get me started on the controls.

I don’t want to sound overly negative. The game is great. It’s high on my list for good reason! It really has some shining moments that will stick with me for a while. And honestly? It’s existence was a pleasant surprise, and I had a great 10 or so hours with it. And it feels awesome to see Metroid step back into the sun after such a long time away.

3. Resident Evil Village

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As an actual game, I don’t know if RE Village deserves my number three spot. But if we’re counting how memorable I found it, and how much fun I had with it, then absolutely.

I’m so glad this is what Capcom is deciding to do with the Resident Evil franchise. It so expertly toes the line of horror, comedy, and absurdity to create something SO endlessly compelling.

While I do wish more of the game felt like the initial Mansion section, I appreciate them stretching their legs and letting us explore different styles of horror game.

Also I’m now scared of mold in real life.

2. Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye

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Outer Wilds is one of my favorite games ever. I’ve always said it’s one of the few games I truly wish I could wipe my brain of and play again.

Echoes of the Eye existing is the closest I’ll ever get to that.

I can only talk about it so much, and would prefer to leave it entirely unspoiled to anyone who has the intention to play it, but I just can’t believe they pulled it off. They figured it out. I cannot ask for more, and I am so thankful it exists.

Game of the Year: Inscryption

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And to think, I almost didn’t play this one. I would have been a fool to deprive myself of a game that I would 100% categorically classify as “My Whole Deal.”

A video game that could simply only exist as a video game. Form meeting function, and story telling utilizing its medium at such a beautifully high level.

I struggle to write about it, because I just don’t think I should be talking about it.

If you’re on the fence, try Inscryption. If you like card games, try Inscryption. If you like big creative swings, try Inscryption.

Just play it. It’s the most interesting gaming experience I've had all year.

And that’s it! I sincerely hope you all had a wonderful new year, and thank you for sharing another year of laughs and games with us, Giant Bomb. Love y’all. Support the arts!