In any other year besides 2020, Broadway Alex would be singing and dancing on Broadway for your amusement. You can follow him on Twitter.
Hey all! Alex Boniello here. Happy to be back to write another Game of the Year list for my favorite games outlet.
You might know me better as Broadway Alex (thanks for that, Dan). But, admittedly, it feels weird to call myself that this year.
Like many other industries, the entertainment industry has been decimated by COVID. Live theater, especially in New York City, has been brutalized on a level that I cannot possibly enumerate. Television sets have been mostly shut down. Live music, too. This has been the hardest year of my life professionally and personally. I have lost jobs to this virus. I have also lost friends. I am sure many of you can relate.
Now more than ever, games have shown up for me. Not only have they been a source of comfort during this difficult time, but they also allowed me to keep paying some bills. I started a Twitch stream in the wake of the industry wide shut down. As a result, I’ve been able to connect with my friends and the people who follow my career because of our shared love of games.
Anyway! Games! I can’t wait to share my favorite experiences and moments with you. Okay! So!
Special Mention: Jackbox
I did this last year, but I want to once again give a special shout out to the team at Jackbox. Myself and a former Dear Evan Hansen cast member (Andrew Barth Feldman) were able to use Jackbox as a platform to raise over $120,000 for The Actors Fund, Broadway for Racial Justice, and other great organizations, all while keeping ourselves and our friends entertained during the early days of the pandemic.
There really is nothing as perfect as Jackbox for engaging with gamers and non gamers alike, and it has been a great way to laugh with my friends who I haven’t been able to see in the last nine months. If you need an easy way to connect with your friends and family from afar, I can’t recommend Jackbox more highly.
Most “Call Me In A Year Or Something” Award: Teardown
Teardown is COOL STUFF.
The experience as it stands in early access is a little hollow for me right now, but the concept and formula is super sound. It feels incredible to smash stuff, and I’m looking forward to keeping my eye on it over the next few months to see where it ends up.
God Damnit of the Year: Cyberpunk 2077
I should probably start out by saying I'm playing on PC. I’m officially in “Act 3” of the game, and probably 30 or so hours in, and I can confirm that it has been a super long time since I’ve been so overwhelmingly conflicted on a video game. I think a lot of what is happening here is very good (they REALLY understood how to use Keanu). I can’t ignore that I keep wanting to play it.
But whenever I feel myself getting really into it, some crazy stuff happens. Bugs all over the place. Cars randomly blowing up. Quests just… break. Random “edgy” writing that feels like it was written by angry 14-year-old boys. Remembering that employees were severely overworked. There’s nothing I can say that better writers haven’t already said about this game. But as I play, even though I’m enjoying it, I can’t help but shake my head and say “god damnit” at what this game could’ve been. And also that I... unfortunately.... think I really like playing it. Ugh. God damnit.
Anyway, now for the top 10!
A Steam code for Superliminal was gifted to me by one of my Twitch mods. I went into it totally blind, and found myself playing through the entire three-ish hour experience on stream. Also! Some of the developers joined in on my chat, and it was a total blast to hear their intention and development ideas when I was facing certain puzzles. It was a special experience! I don’t want to give much away, but if you find yourself enjoying games like The Witness or Portal, I’d recommend giving it a whirl.
Turns out, when you take one of the best arcade/sports games of all time, and make it modern without messing up any of the parts that make it good, IT WILL BE VERY GOOD.
It felt great to have a game that only brought me joy this year. No baggage, no killing dudes, no agony. Just shredding gnar, bro. THPS1+2 was just that. Looks great, plays great, feels great, soundtrack still kicks total ass.
Man, Fall Guys is just a good time. Some of the controls feel like total crap, but seemingly deliberately so, and I think the game started to make me realize that… like… simple, repeatable, addictive gameplay, with a good presentation really can’t be ignored. Some other games on my list will reflect this, but simplicity really can be king when executed correctly.
Months later, I rarely return to it. But when I do, I still laugh, and I still find myself going back for one more round.
Much like Fall Guys, Phasmophobia really revealed itself to me as an awesome time when I started streaming it. It scared the hell out of me and my friends without being debilitating (I don’t do so great with jump scares), and I laughed until I nearly threw up numerous times. In a year where I felt disconnected from lots of my friends, it felt awesome to be able to hop into it and catch some scary ghosties. Special shoutouts to ex-GB employees Dan and Abby for being great friends and great ghost hunting buddies.
I wish there was more content, but appreciate what we have for now. The core of it is solid as hell, and when it’s a little less broken, it’ll really be something mega special. I look forward to the next time I scream “WRITE IN THE FRIGGIN BOOK” to some fake ghost named Peter Jackson or whatever.
I loved Miles for a zillion reasons. First being that it just felt like a refined version of the first game, which I loved as well. But Miles, in general, is just such a lovable and well-drawn character that it was impossible for me to not want to see every corner of his journey. I love him! Some parts of the story are a bit predictable, and it IS more of the same from the first game, but that really isn’t an issue for me. I was thrilled to have more of it.
It felt great to swing around NYC, too. I live here, but after nine months of being in my apartment and not getting to walk around the city I love, it was super comforting to swing on down to the theater district and do Spider-Man stuff around my old haunts.
And there was some great representation here too! I was so, so, so thrilled to see a deaf character in the game, and later found out that some friends of mine from the Deaf West Theater company in Los Angeles had a hand (literally) in creating the ASL for the game. That was very special, and I hope is just the beginning of accurate and respectfully crafted ASL being implemented into games stories.
5. Among Us
In my professional opinion, Among Us fucking rules. It is the closest to playing Survivor that I will probably ever get, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. I love lying to my friends. In the game, I mean. Not in real life. In real life it sucks and I try to avoid doing that. But in the game? Rules. Rocks. A slam dunk. Totally rad.
Okkkkkaaaaaaayyyyyyy. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This game is a technical marvel. Intelligent enemies, tense gameplay, looks spectacular, controls like a dream, contains deeply layered and gorgeous performances from its leading actors, and is polished within an inch of its life. I think the story is very masterfully told.
But this game brought up some very real questions about story for me. What stories do I want to engage with? What is the purpose of storytelling? If you leave a lasting impression, is traumatizing your player along the way worth it? What even IS “good” storytelling? Is it imparting your opinion onto the player through your characters? Is it making me think about the themes in a deeply personal way? Face my own grief?
I found it impossibly hard to feel good about playing this game. In fact, I felt terrible pretty much the entire time. Feeling sick about the trauma the characters were enduring, feeling badly about living through a pandemic myself and seeing friends die of COVID, being frustrated by Ellie’s choices that I have NO say in influencing, feeling depressed about the game’s worldview, and feeling gross that there are basically no glimmers of hope throughout the entire (very long) experience. I keep warring with myself about what kind of content I want to engage with going forward, and what kinds of stories and themes are even worth diving into.
And yet I keep thinking about it. Mostly the little moments--Ellie playing “Take On Me” to Dina. Joel and Ellie at the museum. Approaching the theater as Abby, armed with 10 hours of new perspective and information.
I’m not making many good or succinct points, and I know that. But this game has left me feeling emotionally and mentally all over the place, and I’ll be thinking about the experience for years.
What a year for this game to come out. For a while I wondered if it should take my number one spot. It’s very hard to ignore the cultural impact of it, and I would be lying if I said Animal Crossing wasn’t directly responsible for getting me out of bed during my most mentally dark days during quarantine. It gave my girlfriend and I something fun to work on together in a time where we were feeling like we could make no progress in our real lives.
But as I’ve taken time away from it, and am thinking of it more objectively as, like, a game, I actually think it regressed quite a bit from New Leaf. I think it is a worse game, in a shinier/more modern package. It is frequently frustrating, with some pretty obtuse island designing tools that feel like they’re MEANT to frustrate you.
But gripes aside, I’ll think back very very fondly on the five billion hours I dumped into it. And I’ll keep checking in for the big events! For what it’s worth, my girlfriend still checks in on “her guys” every day. And honestly, I thank Animal Crossing for being such a beautiful “gateway drug” into the world of games. I know so many people who bought Switches just for it, and now play lots of other stuff!
Love you, ACNH. Thanks for coming out this year. Seriously.
HELL YEAH, DUDE. God, I was SO ready for this game to suck, and it SO TOTALLY SUPER DID NOT SUCK. FF7 is one of my favorite games ever, but I’ve pretty vehemently disliked most of the Square Enix releases of the last few years (looking at you, Kingdom Hearts III). And yet here comes this game. Looking like a million bucks and possessing a super engaging battle system that feels like the original game, but totally isn’t.
It’s so mind blowing to me that… we asked for a remake. And they GAVE US A REMAKE, BABY. I respect the crap out of the team for saying “okay people are expecting something out of us, and we’ll give it to them, but on our terms.” It’s so bold and cool to take a risk like that on a property so famous and beloved. Like, can you imagine Tetsuya Nomura at the pitch meeting for this? “Okay so yeah let’s finally do FF7 again, but actually create this wild timeline split that allows us to explore the world and characters that people are nostalgic for, while telling an entirely different story.”
Like just IMAGINE the executives being like… “yeah ok dudes plz don’t fuck this up plz.”
And yeah, the choices made at the end are anime as hell, and they can TOTALLY screw this up in future installments. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am actively worried about what direction the next parts are going to take. But for now? I’m all in.
Also I’m available to play Vincent, Square. Call me.
It’s not even close. Hades is the best roguelike ever made, and the best game to come out this year. It is the new gold standard that I will be chasing every time I ever play a game of this genre again.
It is a game that succeeds so wildly in every single area. Storytelling? Flawlessly executed, while integrating itself effortlessly into the gameplay loop. Graphics? Gorgeously drawn, with characters that jump off the screen (and are so friggin’ hot). Gameplay? Controls are perfect, and the slow improvement in your own skill and your investment in weapons and abilities is felt nearly instantly. Music? Darren Korb has proven that he is one of the best in the biz, and creates motifs and themes that improve every other aspect of the gameplay experience.
I love the characters, I love their diversity, I love how the story is dolled out, I love each weapon, and I loved my time with the game. Beating Hades for the first time is something I will never forget. I mean, I FULLY started speedrunning this game, which is something I have never done for any game in my life.
I could go on and on.
I also want to talk about the love I have for the team who made it. I’ve been totally over the moon for every game Supergiant has released, and it is just so clear to me that this is the kind of team I want to be supporting going forward. Each game feels unmistakably like a product of this studio, and like a reinvention of what we expect from them. And I do not work there, so I can of course be wrong in my read on this, but they are also a small team, who seemingly considers their employees as human beings who deserve days off and fosters a work environment that is conducive to creativity and just… making good stuff. This shouldn’t be a shocking thing, but should be the standard with which we treat game developers. I think Supergiant exists as proof that well-treated people make good products. Investing in your people will be good for business long term.
Thank you, Supergiant, for Hades. I simply couldn’t love it more!
And that’s all! Thanks for another great year of games coverage, Giant Bomb. Love you guys so much.
If you want to follow me, below are some links. Support the arts if you can, and most importantly, support yourself and your loved ones. We’ll get through all of this together, and I’m so happy to be part of the Giant Bomb community.