2021 started off with me getting a sleek and shiny new 3080 in February! SMILES! It broke in September! FROWNS. But I got it RMAed by NVIDIA! I was back to smiling at that point, and here we are, with another long year in the books.
Those of you who know me from the site know my tastes, probably: I like big flashy games with lots of guns and explosions and I like them to look very nice indeed with a high framerate. There’s a reason that DOOM Eternal was my GOTY last year! This year I felt like my gameplay habits were somehow even more along these lines, as I wanted to stress my video card and big-ass monitor as much as I could. So most of what I gravitated to this year was big flashy AAA stuff. I've become a gaming basic bitch and I’m pretty OK with that.
As always, I probably spent more time on Magic: Arena than any other game this year. I play it every day and I like it a lot, not so much of the “Arena” part but more because of the “Magic” part of it. The client has gotten better, though, so, as always, please play some of it if you so desire. I’ve spent most of January playing Vampire Survivors and Cyberpunk, but I guess I’ll have to write those up next year!
Games I Wanted To Mention But Didn’t Play A Lot Of For Whatever Reason
It’d feel weird to let 2021 go by without any mention of New World, one of the biggest Steam launches of all time. Well, I have mentioned it, and maybe we can just let this one go. It’s baffling how popular this is! I’m glad that people like it but it truly feels like a 2008 MMO transported into the future. I apparently played 15 hours of this but can remember not a single event or standout moment from it. Mostly I remember spending 15 minutes walking to a quest destination only to find that a level 18 quest was surrounded by level 22 mobs so I couldn’t complete it. That sucked and I hated it and I didn’t want to play any more of it after that.
I was kind of surprised at how quickly I stopped playing this; I got around three hours in and kind of just…dropped it. That was maybe the most shocking development of last year for me, as I absolutely love the first Psychonauts, and this seems like a more-than-decent sequel to it, but for some reason the controls just seemed so clunky that it was actively distracting me from being able to get into the story. The way you have to remap your powers frequently in order to use more than four of them is kind of absurd in 2021, and the “connect the thoughts” mechanic flew over my head more than a few times, so I’d just have to sit there and wait for Raz to shout out the actual answer because I guess I didn’t understand what I needed to connect like I’m a big dummy! I don’t like feeling like a big dummy, but the evidence is there.
I mean, it’s true that I’m a big dummy in general but something about this game just felt off to me around the time I got to the casino level and the big cube with multiple faces you could jump into which also confused me so I put it down and haven’t really come back to it since. I definitely want to pick it back up but we’ll see when that happens, since the February mega-release month is almost here. They can lure me back by adding a PsychoAK47 that Raz can shoot people with.
Sometimes Yolanda wants to sit down and watch me play a game front to back, but that can be kind of a challenge: I mostly like playing on my ultrawide monitor and the technology has not been invented yet to let her see through my big-ass noggin. But we put Biohazard and Village up on the TV in our room and got a decent chunk of the way through them. Biohazard seems like the worse game of the two (and I gather most people think this way): just brown and sludge-y and ugly all the way around, with frustratingly unkillable bosses.
I didn’t really care for that one all that much and stopped playing it around the 1/3rd mark according to the walkthrough I checked out, but Village seems to shift modes into something way more campy which was a better fit for me. In the end it’s still kind of surprising how little the gameplay has changed since RE4, for better or for worse, but they remain fun and we should really get back to it.
One wish I would have for these games would be to have a difficulty toggle that you can change mid-game; I had to restart Biohazard over and replay a good hour of it after I realized that I didn’t want to play it on the default difficulty. I’m into these games for the scares and plot twists; the inventory/ammo management aspect of it is supremely boring to me so I’d prefer to just blast through the enemies and get moving with the story. Got to get back to Village but hopefully we’ll do that soon!
Games I Played A Lot Of But Which I Don’t Consider To Be GOTY Candidates
Outriders was a pleasant surprise! It was neat to find a cover shooter that also vigorously rewarded you for getting up close and personal with the enemies coming your way. I only ever played this single-player, so I can’t speak to the online variants of it, but it was a good game to flip on when I wanted to kill some stuff and not think too hard about it which was most of the time. It was pretty janky in a lot of ways and the try-hard, sub-Gears-of-War toughguy writing was completely unmemorable, but I never got tired of doing that warping move where you land on an enemy and they explode. That’s fun and more games should let me do that.
I never played a Forza before Horizon 4, which I liked, so I went ahead and bought Forza Horizon 5 as well. It’s pretty much the same game in a different location! It’s fun and maybe you should check it out, but don’t expect a reinvention of the wheel. Although that’d be cool because it’d be fun to see what a car would look like without wheels.
Games That I Wouldn’t Mind Calling My Favorite Game Of The Year
I’m contractually obligated to say this when I mention Halo Infinite: the Xbox/Game Pass For PC launcher/infrastructure should be shot straight into the sun and reworked. I could barely get Halo Infinite to work before I decided to just buy it on Steam, and after I did that, well golly, it worked perfectly fine for the 15 hours or so it takes to complete the game. Do something about this, Microsoft!
Despite the inauspicious beginnings, Halo Infinite quickly became my favorite Halo game. (I never played 4 or 5.) The one-two punch of open world and grappling hook opened up the gameplay in ways that I continuously found surprising, both in terms of combat and exploration. The shooting in Halo has always been its strong suit, so there’s not too many tweaks to the old shoot/reload/wait for shield to recharge loop, but the grappling hook alone is a refreshing twist, with its ability to snare enemies or their weapons or those explody energy cells that the bad guys haphazardly leave strewn about their bases. The gameplay loop remains as satisfying as ever, and it’s fun to just roam the wastelands doing side missions in between story levels.
The writing here is clearly the weak spot. There’s basically no recap of the previous games to let you know where the heck John Chief is or who he’s fighting, the Weapon sounds like an AI trying to be clever and just coming across as cloying, and the Pilot should show up in the dictionary next to the word “overwrought.” Scrap all this stuff next time around and just have me shooting more people, please!
I don’t have a tremendous amount to add here except that I really enjoyed my time with the game and I wish there was a lot more to do in the world. I don’t even really care for the multiplayer; I just like the singleplayer stuff! Make the world bigger! More random stuff to find! Let me repopulate the map with all the high value targets so I can kill them again! When I was done with the game I kind of just wanted to start again and do it all over again, so maybe they’re on to something with this formula! Do some single-player DLC!!!!
Wow, what a surprise! I had heard the same things about Days Gone that everyone else did when it came out on PS4; it seemed like a lot of people thought it was disappointing, and I didn’t really hear anyone passionately championing the game at that point. I therefore wasn’t really expecting a huge amount from the PC port from last summer, so imagine my shock when it wound up being perhaps my favorite game of the year!
We’re all probably extremely fuckin’ tired of zombie games, and the early hours of Days Gone are a slog in the same way that something like Dying Light is: there are a lot of zombies and your character gets tired after running 20 yards and the only gun you have seems to fire papier-mâché bullets for all the damage they do to anything. I mean, most games start you off in a pretty weak state compared to the murderbot you become lately, but Days Gone seems like a worse offender than most. I was extremely happy that I slogged through the opening, though; the game becomes a ton more fun when you get a bigger fuel tank.
The gameplay is a kind of stealth/action combination, where you find bands of drifters or murderous scumbags on your map, sneak into their camps, kill a couple quietly until they figure out where you are, then murder the rest with a gun while you yell stuff like “I’M GONNA SLIT THE THROATS OF EVERY MAN WOMAN AND CHILD I FIND IN HERE AND MAYBE THE ANIMALS TOO” or “SUCK MY THREE CHAINSAW DICKS YOU OOZING SACKS OF SHIT” or something similar. Well, I made those up, but honestly, Deacon’s unhinged banter never failed to make me laugh. He gets so mad! He really wanted to kill those Rippers!
The writing in the game was surprisingly strong, as well, especially if you could bust past Deacon’s scowly high school attitude that was mostly present early in the game. All of the side characters feel like they have depth and real personalities, and Deacon’s increasingly fervent search for his maybe-dead, maybe-not wife had a…payoff of some sort! You’ll have to play the game to find out! It was a real bummer that the cutscenes had unskippable dialogue lines, as some of them were really long; I wish they had thrown some kind of Cyberpunk-esque fast forward feature here, but what are you going to do.
Anyway, this game was truly off my radar until I tried the PC port. It’s a shame that the port came out right before there were a million news stories about how Sony is definitely never making a sequel so fuckin’ stop talking about it, ok? I logged almost 30 hours into Days Gone, though, so maybe I’ve had my fill…but I wouldn’t mind another one!
I have generally liked the Dishonored games a great deal, so it’s no surprise that I dug into Deathloop as soon as it launched. It immediately grabbed my attention for the next week or so…until my 3080 died! It took a while to resolve that, so this had to go back on the burner for a bit. (I decided to play Far Cry 6 at like 30 fps rather than down-res a game I actually liked.) But even with the disjointed nature of my trip through the campaign, I still really really liked the gameplay here, certainly well enough to launch this into GOTY consideration for me.
Despite the fact that there’s just too much stuff going on in the early game (especially with the endless menus), once you settle into a pace and a playstyle, I found Deathloop to be kind of the perfect game for my attention span in 2021. You can load up, get into a level, shoot a bunch of people, kill a Visionary or two, and you’re done! You can stop there if you want to go get a snack or watch a Quibi or play one of those tiny crossword puzzles on your phone or whatever else your lockdown-ravaged brain psyche needs to do for ten minutes while you recharge your ability to concentrate on something. So in that sense it’s no wonder that I really liked it!
Gameplay-wise it’s “FPS with magic powers,” just like Dishonored really was, except with a flipped emphasis on shooting everyone in the face instead of stabbing them in the back. Technically you can definitely approach any given level with stealth, or so the achievements imply, but I can’t really imagine why anyone would.
The main knock I had against the game was that it was just too easy all the way around, probably because it only had two difficulty settings. Most combat encounters devolve into “make everyone mad at me and then shoot them as they come through the doorway I’m hiding near,” which honestly made the game a cakewalk, by and large. So you can probably stealth through the game, but I’m not sure why anyone would unless you wanted everything to take three times as long. That’s kind of a shame because I usually played the Dishonored games on full-quiet, full-non-lethal modes, but there didn’t seem to be any real point to doing so here.
The low degree of difficulty also made some of the other design decisions somewhat odd; there are enough permutations of the various magic powers to make for some interesting build choices, but since you can kill pretty much anything with a headshot, the only power I ever bothered with was the teleport. (My experiences here are probably colored by the fact that I was playing on MKB where headshots were easy to come by; I probably would’ve fooled around with the other powers more had there been a higher difficulty levell to fool around with or if I was on a controller.)
Despite a story and dialogue that I largely didn’t care for or about, I still found the structure and moment-to-moment gameplay of Deathloop to easily put it in my top few games of last year. I managed to spend 25 even hours on it without ever playing as Julianna, and I had a lot of fun the entire time I was playing! Nice!
Other Stuff Of The Year
Hey, here are some other things I enjoyed this year. I don't remember any movies or TV shows that I really loved last year but I didn't really take notes on that stuff!
Shards of Earth: I don't really know how Adrian Tchaikovsky keeps up his pace of writing; he seems to crank out a novel seemingly every six to eight months or so with short stories and novellas regularly popping up as well. Shards of Earth is the beginning of a new universe for him where...humanity faces certain doom?!?!?! Yes, I know, not exactly revelatory, but I dug this a bunch and am looking forward to the next book which is already coming out in a few months!
Inhibitor Phase: I don't really know how Alastair Reynolds keeps up his pace of writing; he seems to crank out a novel seemingly every six to eight months or so with short stories and novellas regularly popping up as well. Inhibitor Phase is the end of a series of books where...humanity faces certain doom?!?!?! Ah, anyway, that's a dumb joke, but this is another book where humanity faces certain doom. I spent a fair chunk of 2021 re-reading the other Revelation Space books and they were generally excellent. I don't know if Inhibitor Phase ranks among the best of them, as the timeframes on which these characters are living is starting to stretch credulity, but more Reynolds is always a good thing and if this does wind down the Revelation stories (I really can't see where it'll go from here), I await his next adventures.
Leviathan Falls: .....humanity faces certain doom?!?!?! I wonder what's going on with me lately. Anyway this is the last book in the Expanse series in case you've been living subterraneously. It's good, go read it.
Whatever Brandon Sanderson's Writing: I've read four of these books and can never remember what they're called. The Something Archives. They're fuckin' huge. The first one's like 900 pages long and I think the most recent one is 1400 or something?!?!? After the world-shaking events at the end of the third book it's kind of tough to get into the fourth one. But hey, if you get them from the library you'll be reading for a while. Just don't let the overdue fees get to you because I'm not sure it's possible to read one of them in a single month.
Origami Angel: Gami Gang: I don't know if an emo album needs to be 20 songs long, but most of these are straight bangers and this is a heck of a followup to Somewhere City, one of my favorite emo albums of all time.
Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert: I wanted to say that I caught the video for Introvert in January of last year but it turns out it didn't come out until April? 2021 was bizarre! Anyway this is an amazing music video and the rest of the album is pretty amazing as well.
Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud: Katie Crutchfield never disappoints, and even if her newfound sobriety takes a bit of the edge off of her usual songs about relationships on the edge of alcoholic disaster, she's still one of the best songwriters out there today and most of this album is just lovely. I'm going to throw this blank video in here instead of the actual video for Lilacs because I hate the dancing in the actual video.