Soha leads Diversity & Inclusion efforts at Riot Games and sits on the Board of Directors for the amazing organization Dames Making Games.
When she’s not playing games, she is petting one or two out of her three cats and writing short fiction. You can find her on Twitter @sokareemie.
Let’s do this. In no particular order:
Assassin's Creed Origins: Curse of the Pharoahs
Everyone’s talking about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and I totally get it. Look, I love my butch Kassandra and how she steals the hearts of every wife in Greece, but Bayek of Siwa is my forever medjay. At the end of the day, I find Egypt mythology way more fascinating than Greek, and that was the missing piece that kept me from pouring hundreds of hours into Odyssey the way that I did in Origins. Particularly in the DLC Curse of the Pharaohs, Bayek visits surreal afterlife worlds through ancient pharaoh tombs where bizarre creatures roam about, and it’s visually such a rad experience that brought life to a series I haven’t cared for since Assassin’s Creed II.
Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2
I should be ashamed of how much money I’ve spent in this mobile game. I’m reliving painful memories of dropping cash in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood when I was still a broke grad student. I may have been living like a raccoon, scrounging for food and constantly hissing, but damn I looked good as an A-list celebrity.
Dx2 is my first step into a non-Persona Shin Megami Tensei game, and it’s one of the few games ever that made me give into its difficulty and accept the challenge of endless grinding. Although many of my friends and many of you have gone on and on about how I should play SMT: Nocturne, I think it’s Dx2 that’s finally convinced me to find that old game and play it.
(And yes, I KNOW. I KNOW I WILL LOVE NOCTURNE. STOP TALKING TO ME ABOUT NOCTURNE.)
Faith is a pixel game that shouldn’t be as terrifying as it is. It’s old school in a few ways: the developer describes it as inspired by “MS-DOS, Apple II, Atari, and ZX Spectrum classics,” and the story is set in the late '80s around an exorcism gone wrong. I feel like if I say any more it will spoil the experience, so if you’re a fan of horror go play it and prepare to sweat profusely like I did. Although the game released last year, the demo for its sequel Faith: Chapter II was recently announced, which you should check out here.
The Doll Shop
The Doll Shop is a free visual novel that a group of students hand-painted with watercolors in just three days. It’s described as half-romance, half-horror, so you know I had to check that out. In its short playthrough it does a fantastic job of pacing the story and building up a dreadful gut-feeling that I couldn’t shake off. Similar to Faith, the less you know going in, the better it pays off. Also the artwork is beautiful and the game is set in Japan’s countryside, which was a refreshing addition to the experience.
This will sound weird in a GOTY list, but I have no idea if I actually like The Council or not. It’s a mystery adventure set in the late 1700s about a secret society where you get to chill with George Washington and argue with Napoleon. I’m also guessing it written by someone who finally found a career path that utilized their art history degree. That’s not shade, by the way. I have not one but two degrees related to film and I applaud the hustle. Anyway, on paper the game sounds awesome, but it’s… janky as hell in a way that I think I really dig? The Council has the cringiness of a CW show combined with the uncanniness of Deadly Premonition, and the dialogue can be straight up embarrassing at times. But it’s surprisingly complex and detailed in a way that I didn’t expect and the choices you make have a direct impact to how the mystery unfolds, which is pretty cool. Honestly, I need others to play it so I can calibrate how I feel, which is why I’m slapping it on this list.
This is a simulation game where you build ecosystems and that’s really it. You unlock animals that bounce around and then the next in-game day they have babies that bounce around after them. It fucking rules. I have nothing else to say.
Heaven Will Be Mine
I never got into the mecha genre and I have to admit that the intimidation factor is high, but Heaven Will Be Mine lured me with a compelling, multi-layered narrative using my favorite writing trope of all time: enemies to lovers. The writing is engrossing; razor-sharp banter shifts allegiances and power dynamics between three mecha pilots and the action between gnaws with haunting descriptions. I still have a couple of endings to unlock which I plan to do over the holidays, ‘cuz I can only handle so much hot pink angst in one sitting and I want to give the game the time it deserves to properly dive back in.
I’ve been spoiled by open-world games for too long, where objectives pile up in a journal to complete at my leisure and a map is handy in case I get lost (which happens a lot, my sense of navigation is so bad it’s impressive). You play Minit 60 seconds at a time, inching farther away from your home to scout for items and meet friends and foes. There are numerous twists and turns along the way, so focusing on one objective and relying on memory is key to success. I knew I loved this game in the first 60 seconds when an old man by a lighthouse slowly explained in panting gasps what I needed to do just as the timer was counting down in ominous thuds. Stressful and frantic, but a charming and delightful game as well.
Umfend is a bite-sized, psychological sci-fi horror where the silent protagonist rips open a glitching hole in time and space in their garage that seeps into the rest of the apartment. I hate when that happens. As they pace around their apartment to learn more about the interdimensional spirits haunting them, rooms and objects degrade further into the supernatural realm. It definitely has a P.T. vibe as the game has you exploring the same areas of your home multiple times, each round more anxious than the last. Umfend has a lot of other similar themes and tropes from other indie horrors (the search for flashlight batteries will never not be a thing), but I found that its existential narrative makes it stand out from the rest.
That’s right, we need more short, inexpensive horror games on the list! Check out Paratopic, a game that is set in perfectly normal spaces that are eerily disconnected from each other and reality. Human faces stretch and shift across blocks of polygonal heads and scenes suddenly jump between characters in a way that amplifies the anticipation and confusion. The transitions are more unsettling than the game’s actual content, which is disturbing, but not out-right horrific. Right as you familiarize yourself with the surroundings of one scene, the rug is pulled from under your feet, and you’re playing from the perspective of another character in a different area but with the same green-orange fog looming in the world. It’s a fun, trippy experience.