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Harris Foster’s Top 10 Games of 2021

Due to a 2018 production mishap and subsequent additional mishaps, we are legally obligated to run this list of video games from one Harris Forest. Giant Bomb regrets the error(s).

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Parris Fosteer is a Community Developer for Finji, a believer in pizza bargains, and a quality follow on TikTok.

Hi, I’m Harris Foster. Normally I’m doing community work for games like Night in the Woods, Zelda Like a Fox, and Chicory: A Colorful Tale. Around the Giant Bomb world, you might know me as that guy who constantly gets his name spelled wrong. This happened once during Giant Bomb @ Nite 2018, and then many, *many* times after that. It even somehow came up during the Ghost Recon Breakpoint Quick Look. I still don’t know how this happens. It’s not even that hard of a name.

My constant misidentification on Giant Bomb Dot Com has wreaked havoc on my personal brand. Starbucks baristas hesitate when writing my name on the cup. I have to present two forms of ID when buying liquor now. I took a flight recently and the guy at the TSA stand took one look at me and called me a “fuckin’ dumbass.” This is all thanks to what I have been told was a “production mishap” at GB studios, but what I truly know to be nothing short of character assassination.

As an apology, Jeff Gerstmann offered me a lifetime subscription to Giant Bomb Premium, 300 dollars cash, and a five-minute Toys-R-Us-style “keep anything you can grab” run through his garage. I said “Jeff, I just want my life back.” He said “How about a Giant Bomb Top 10 list?” I said “OK.”

All of that really happened.

Welcome to the first ever Giant Bomb top 10 list created out of a mutual desire for reconciliation. A quick note: I’m leaving Chicory: A Colorful Tale off this list because of the whole “I worked on it” thing. I really love this game, and it would definitely fit in here, but I want to focus on games from other talented folks. OK! On to my favorite stuff.

10. Knockout City

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Applying the expectations of an arena shooter to dodge ball has previously been attempted (much love to Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball), but Knockout City is the game that nails it with Nintendo Sports-like precision. I say “Nintendo-Sports,” because Knockout City feels like a return to the long lost genre of “larger-than-life” sports games that we were all about in the 2000s. Knockout City is not quite funky enough to be an EA Sports BIG title, and not quite “older sibling who teaches you cusses” enough to be a late-stage Midway sports game. Velan Studios has created a game that feels like a cousin to Super Mario Strikers or Mario Superstar Baseball, and they should be proud of that. Check out Knockout City - it’s wacky, it’s arcade-y, and it’s on basically everything.

9. Splitgate

I’m a big Halo guy. Spoiler alert: Halo Infinite is my #1 pick at the bottom of this list. Splitgate’s burst in popularity earlier this year was exactly what I needed, and acted as an appetizer to Halo Infinite.

This intro isn’t fair to Splitgate. It’s a terrific game. But you can’t talk about Splitgate without mentioning both Halo and Portal by name. Splitgate’s gameplay being a combination of two of my all-time favorite games made it feel like I had been training my whole life for its release. I was zippin’ all over the place. I was staring dudes straight in the face while shooting them square in the back. In my time playing Splitgate, no one ever figured out that Oddball becomes trivial with portals. Place a return portal, grab the ball, open an escape portal, close it behind you, and you’re gone without a trace. I was a little stinker when I played Splitgate, and I love any game that allows me that privilege.

8. Rat Battler II @ Meow Wolf Denver

Image borrowed from here.
Image borrowed from here.

The only spoiler warning I’ll give in this whole review is not for a game, but for a real-life experience. If you have any desire to visit a Meow Wolf exhibit, in this case Meow Wolf Denver, skip this entry. Meow Wolf is a thing that you should remain in the dark about up until the moment you’re inside.

Buried deep within the non-euclidian twists and turns of this incredible Disney Imagineer nightmare is a wholly unique arcade experience known as Rat Battler II. Essentially a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots clone, Rat Battler II isn’t about the moment-to-moment gameplay. In fact, the machine didn’t even seem to work correctly when my girlfriend and I tried to play. BUT - what Rat Battler II is REALLY about, much like everything inside Meow Wolf, is that there’s nothing else quite like it.

The Rat Battler II arcade cabinet acts as a centerpiece for a slice of the museum devoted to being a gross little punk who wants to get loaded and have a good time. The cabinet is a 360-degree plexiglass enclosure spanning all the way to the ceiling, with your physical rat characters at the bottom duking it out. As the cabinet expands towards the ceiling, a complex diorama plays out inside, with miniature grimy bikers hanging off the fire escapes of nearby buildings and cops coming in to break up the fight. Pull yourself away from the cabinet and you’ll find Graffiti covering the walls while screeching guitar bombards your eardrums. Busted Game Boys and spent whippit containers litter the floor. Rat Battler II is a wholly unique gaming experience that would be physically impossible to have anywhere else. It’s a piece of art that is just as fun to play as it is to be inside.

7. Fortnite

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Fortnite. God. As I sit here typing this list, there’s something poetically tragic about how a one-of-a-kind arcade experience gets outranked by one of the most universally popular video games of all time. I’m mad at myself for even doing it this way. Furious, really. But I can’t leave 2021 behind without shouting out Fortnite.

I can’t even figure out what it is I like about the dang thing! No single aspect or moment comes to mind--there are so many little things that have made Fortnite my number one battle royale of choice. Like how the skill-based matchmaking is at a point where I can play on a gamepad with zero fort-building skills yet I can still earn victory royales with my buds. Or how the game is constantly changing. Every time I log in, the map is new, there’s a completely unique traversal method, and something buck-wild is happening with Naruto or Spider-Man or whatever.

I don’t know, y’all. I don’t know. It’s got me. And my V-Bucks. Please bring it back to iPhone. Actually, don’t. I don’t know! I’m scared!!

6. Pinball FX3

I took a flight earlier this year and realized right before takeoff that I had nothing to play for the three or so hours I’d be in the sky. I flipped through Apple Arcade and decided to pick up Zen’s Pinball Party, and in the blink of an eye, I was on the ground at my destination. I had such a good time that when I got back home, I scooped up Pinball FX3 on Steam, and ever since then, it has become my “Let’s kill 5 minutes before my next meeting” game of 2021.

I particularly like how on the Theater of Magic table, if you make the guy fall down the stairs, he says “OH NO!” really loud. It’s very funny. I’m happy that in 2021, Zen’s pinball games were able to teach me about a slice of gaming I found myself on the outskirts of for so long.

5. Adios

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Adios is a game about taking quiet moments of insignificance and giving them worth. It’s a game about filling empty spaces with value and emotion. There’s nothing like this game.

Adios is a narrative adventure about a Kansas pig farmer who receives a visit from his business partner. It’s not a very long game, I finished it in one sitting. It isn’t a game about getting to the end, in fact, quite the opposite. Moments after Adios gets going, there is a part of your subconscious that knows exactly how the game will end. For both the protagonist and you as a player, Adios is an experience about savoring the now and suppressing your natural urge to look forward.

This is all achieved by how masterfully Adios delivers its dialog. Video games rarely have the pregnant pause--the moment where, after a matter of importance is stated, the ensuing silence carries just as much weight as the statement itself. Adios’ dialog takes every opportunity to hit you with a long overdrawn pause, allowing the characters to reflect on their life choices, and for you to wonder if maybe, just maybe, you can affect what is playing out before you. I’ve never seen a game handle the complexities and subtleties of interpersonal relationships as well as Adios. You should play this game.

4. Inscryption

This game was number 10 on my list, and then I got to a Certain Part where A Thing happened. Now it’s much higher up on my list. That is all I can say about Inscryption. Thank you.

3. The Austin Cidercade

Learn more here.
Learn more here.

The Austin Cidercade (Conveniently located off Barton Springs drive, y’know--where the old Joe’s Crab Shack used to be) has it all: delicious pizza, a guy who is there every day playing DDR barefoot, and a Neo Geo with Aero Fighters II.

I’ve only been able to visit the Cidercade a handful of times since it opened--turns out the waxing and waning of a global pandemic has a direct effect on whether or not I want to touch grimy joysticks. BUT when numbers are low here in Austin, it’s always the first place I want to visit with friends.

The Austin Cidercade is massive--discovering a new game on every visit keeps me coming back. My first trip introduced me to the nightmare maze game known as Naughty Boy, a Jaleco game from the 80s that features some of the most hilarious marquee art I’ve ever seen. On the last few visits, my crew has gravitated towards the indie cabinet Deathball, a deceptively complex 1-on-1 sports game that answers the question “what if soccer was played by wizards who constantly did dope-ass frontflips?”

The best part about the Cidercade is that it’s an honest-to-god arcade. It doesn’t feel like some business guy’s skewed vision of an arcade of the modern era, it doesn’t need to have gimmicks to keep things fresh, it’s just a grimy place with excellently curated games.

2. Hitman 3

The gameplay formula of the Hitman games has stayed exactly the same since the series’ “soft-reboot” in 2016. Agent 47 starts in a beautiful exotic location, he tries his best to stick to the plan, and he runs like the dickens when it eventually all comes crumbling down. But the thing that makes Hitman 3 so special is how subtly the games have evolved since their first release.

When you step back and look at it with an appreciative eye, Hitman’s arrival on the new generation of consoles carries a lot of weight. IO Interactive’s dedication to maintaining Hitman’s years and years of content as one semi-continuous product, through iterations of both game engines, generational hardware, and heck even publishers, deserves mountains of praise. When I downloaded Hitman 3 on my Xbox Series X, it came bundled with the contents of Hitman 1 & 2 - a half-decade of passionate humility.

I didn’t even play the new missions right away. For my first session of Hitman 3, I chose to go back to Hitman 1’s Paris mission. Thanks to the improvements of the engine, I found myself in awe of a place I had already spent dozens of hours in. The marble floors now gave off a reflective sheen that had me googling “Does Hitman 3 have raytracing?” I let the camera spin around Agent 47’s head as I took in everything at a smooth 60fps for the first time. I marveled at the HDR glow of the brass sconces as I walked up a staircase I wasn’t supposed to and punched a guy who yelled at me.

I’m the best assassin in the world. Hitman 3 is the best game about assassins in the world.

IO interactive is the best developer of assassin simulators in the world.

1. Halo Infinite (Multiplayer)

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Halo was “the game” for all of the kids in my neighborhood growing up. In my adolescence, I surrounded myself with a group of peers who measured the value of a person, a human being, in how well they could drive a Warthog.

Every year for my birthday, instead of a traditional birthday party somewhere around town, I would instead host a Halo 2 LAN party at my house. There’d be a CRT in each corner of the living room and tidal wave of middle-schoolers yelling the most awful things at each other--not because we felt these obscenities to be true, but because we were filled with Mountain Dew and we had just learned them. One Flag CTF on Zanzibar. Zombies on Foundation. The grand finale, with a real trophy and everything, would always be BRs-only Free-for-All Slayer on Lockout. Strategies were whispered, rivalries were ignited, and champions were crowned. But playing Halo itself wasn’t the best part about these LAN parties, it was the way a video game could bring together all of my school friends during the summertime. That was when I realized the power of a gaming community. Halo 2 is the reason why I’m now a community manager, and these LAN parties were where I felt most at home, the most I could be myself.

Playing Halo Infinite is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt this way again.

Halo, as a series, is about shooting dudes until you can get close enough to punch ‘em, and then you punch ‘em. It’s a combat pattern so familiar that even all these years later, I can still pick up a round of classic Halo and perform decently. Since taking over the series, I hadn’t felt like 343 Industries could really nail that feeling the same way Bungie did. Halo Infinite proves me so wrong. In the first round of Halo Infinite multiplayer I played, old techniques and muscle memory that had been buried deep in my subconscious bubbled up and took over. “Blow me Away” by Breaking Benjamin softly loops in my head every time I get a double kill. Halo is back, baby. But as I attempt to write out any specific new things I love about Halo Infinite, it all boils down to me with a big dumb smile on my face, throwing my hands toward the screen and shouting “It’s Halo!” in a very George Costanza-like fashion.

Halo Infinite earning my game of the year isn’t about the moment to moment of playing a round of Slayer, but instead an appreciation about how all these years later, Halo can still make me happy and bring me close to people. I know meta-ruminations on Halo Infinite aren’t anything new to Giant Bomb Dot Com, but yeah. The thing that makes Halo Infinite special is what its release has done to my Xbox friends list. I’ve seen gamertags that have been offline for years suddenly spring back to life. I’m getting party invites from grade school friends that I thought had “outgrown” video games in adulthood. Seeing these names log back in, one by one, is like seeing friends step through the door at one of my middle school LAN parties all over again. We might not be under the same roof, we might not even be playing any rounds together, but there’s something comforting about how we’re all playing Halo again.

The day Halo Infinite’s multiplayer shadow-dropped, I got a message from my old Halo 3 ranked duos partner. I hadn’t talked to her in probably 10 years. She asked if I wanted to catch a round, and we played until 2AM. We’ve played just about every night since. She has a husband and a son now. We’re ranked Diamond 2 and climbing. I told her about the problems I have with my Homeowners Association. She showed me how the weapon respawn UI works. We’ve made plans to have dinner next time she’s in town.

We met in 2006, where we sat next to each other in 6th grade Spanish class. We became friends because we both liked Halo.