2020 in review
I’ve decided going forward not to do a GOTY post in the traditional style, mostly due to the fact that I barely play any games released in the current year, finish those I do play or, perhaps most pertinent, enjoy them more than older games. As such this will be just a general review of the games I spent playing this year and those I feel deserve special mention.
Apologies if I slag off your favourite game but these are my experiences and thoughts.
There will be spoilers – though I will try to keep them to a minimum.
I don’t think I really need to go into how terrible a year it’s been for most people. I’m one of the lucky ones – I have a home that I can return to, supportive parents and a PhD that does not require me to be anywhere in particular. In fact, health wise I’m finally (in the last two weeks) probably better than I’ve been since 2013. The meds finally work. Praise (insert whichever god you favour here). I, literally and figuratively, have no grounds for complaint. I realise that makes me incredibly lucky.
But enough about me – let’s get on with the games.
I picked up a ps4 in January – on the way back from hospital actually, and finally got around to playing the ‘GENERATION DEFINING BEHEMOTHS’ that Sony put out. I’ll be honest – despite playing all of the big games, such as TLOU. GoW, Horizon… only two games really sang to me.
Naturally, one of them is Bloodborne. I can’t really add to the conversation regarding Bloodborne in any particular way beyond my own experience – I appreciated the increase in speed, movement and the removal of blocking. In many ways it reminded me of 90s FPS games in that the emphasis was on placement and always moving forward. The regen system being tied to aggression really underlined that for me. Playing through Bloodborne actually made me better at the older Souls games – I went through Ds3 pretty easily after switching to a more aggressive build and playstyle. The problem I have with Bloodborne is that the combat feels less refined to me than Nioh 1s combat. Everything else, sound – environment – story – pacing, Bloodborne does better. But Nioh just has far superior combat and decision making within combat – at least for me. Nevertheless, Bloodborne was a fantastic experience and I hope it gets ported to PC at some point.
The other game that really should get ported is, of course, Spider-man. I mean…damn. DAMN. Sure the pacing is a bit iffy and the world is a bit bland at times but…DAMN everything else. They hit the nail on the head. ‘It really makes you feel like you’re Spider-man…no not that Spider-man…no the other one….yeah, Ben Reilly, that one’ direct quote from IGN. For me the standout, beyond the movement/swinging was the writing. I dropped off Spider-books once Brand New Day hit cause, well that’s an essay in itself, but I actually feel that the writers of MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN ™ really managed to capture what I loved about the characters. Yes we’re doing Spider-man 2 again but – gods- did they nail Peter’s voice and behaviour. MJ was given something to do beyond being a model because..ewww with that crap…and Miles was there. It was great. First Spider-verse and now this? Knocked it out the park, Sony.
One game that didn’t knock it out of the park was Nioh 2. A massive disappointment for me, as I love the original game. The sequel just felt like an empty shadow compared to the original. The combat felt..off. The story was atrocious, and I’m someone who loved the original story. Losing William to some creator-character was disappointing. Then there’s those rage moves that enemies do that turns the ballet of the original game into Simon Says. Who thought that was a good idea? I can understand changing mechanics to spice things up – but it was so tedious. The addition of the summonable NPC/PC helpers at all times also screwed the balance completely. Nioh 1 was tough but fair – Nioh 2 was a mess. Very disappointed.
Strange side note – I think my ps4 is haunted. I had to unplug it and hide it in the cupboard because it was giving me some really bad vibes. There it shall stay.
I have tons and tons of games on the Switch which I still haven’t gotten around to – I really need to stop buying games. That said, I did enjoy the following:
Fire Emblem Three Houses: I got this back in October and have yet to play more than 10 hours. I’m not a fan of the waifu sim that Fire Emblem has become post Awakening, but so far the game seems to be more interested in telling it’s story than forcing childish relationships on the player. It also helps that the combat has been sped up and is much more fluid with the cutaways.
Hades: Many people will have this as their GOTY. A friend of mine said that it’s more than the sum of it’s parts and I’d have to agree. Those parts aren’t all that great. Mechanically it’s a really fun, if limiting in comparison to something like Shiren, Roguelike. VO is fantastic too, and the art has a charm to it buuuuuuuut the writing is..not good. It comes off as something akin to a CW drama at times and this constant need to make everything about relationships is just…ergh. Tying game mechanics to romantic relationships is not something I like – it’s creepy and gives people the wrong idea about actual relationships. That all said Hades is a fun time – I just preferred Katana Kami. Haven’t finished it yet.
Oninaki was a massive letdown for me. I loved I am Setsuna for its ambience and story. Sure, it was FFX all over again but the music, design and carefully quiet storytelling lifted it above it’s meagre beginnings. Oninaki wasn’t that. The story didn’t really work – though the choice at the end had a visceral punch that most games don’t have anymore. The combat felt half baked most of the time and the characters did not have the same depth to them as Setsuna. It’ll be interesting to see how Lost Sphere turns out – given that I’ve only really started it. Still, a disappointment.
Metro 2033 Redux: Oh boy, what a game. Backstory time – I picked up some Aftershockz headphones recently, bone conduction rather than your outer ear – I know that the sound quality is not as good as traditional headphones but these suit my needs far better as they keep your ears open. Anyway, I’d played through Doom 2016 wearing them and had a hell good time, so wondered what it would be like playing something that relies more on atmosphere and sound design. Booted up 2033 on my Xbone and turned off the HUD, changed the language to Russian and put the difficulty up. What an experience. Without the HUD indicators I had no idea how many bullets I had left and the sound of an empty barrel click is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. The choking breaths warning you that your filter is running out…the screech of a mutant behind you or the Nazi coughing just behind the next corner and you’ve no ammo. Quality stuff.
That said there were times when the critical path was a bit obscure, which isn’t helpful when you’re running out of oxygen. Also the horde attacks can fuck right off – less is more.
Great game – bought the rest of the series, look forward to playing more of them.
Pokemon finally clicked with me. It took the end of the world but it finally clicked. Playing through White (apparently the best story in the series….ergh) it was the interactions and the environments that you go through that really drove the game for me – the exploration aspect as it were. I can’t say that I liked many of the pokemon designs though. My travels with Baal the Oshawatt? And Baki the Judo dude were fun and I enjoyed it enough to pick up Sword for my Switch. I’ll get back to it soon but, in all honesty I think Renegade Platinum is more my scene.
Raging Loop is a nice play on words and a cool little VN that plays upon the Werewolf game concept in a fun way. Not a fan of the character art in all honesty but it’s worth a look.
Soul Slayer is a Japanese VN set in China with a Chinese aesthetic and VO and, gods, please give me the next one in the series. It’s short and very like modern C-Dramas. The main character is killed at the beginning of the game and you’re given three ‘ground hog day’ repeats in order to work out who, what and why. Short, cheap and fun. Recommended.
Root Double: Before Crime *After Days is not short though can be found cheap and is fun. A VN in the style of 999 but without the puzzles. This time you influence people emotionally through ESP. Again, not a fan of the character art but it’s a gripping story and generally well written. Very long though.
The Vampire: Masquerade VNs were a solid attempt at trying something new for the franchise. The artwork was gorgeous and the writing went from excellent on some character routes to..err…no. The problem with both games was that they were both too short to allow the characters any sense of depth, or for your choices to have any real meaning. It felt like a tech demo rather than a full experience, if you understand the comparison.
The Big Two
These two are my GOTY if you need to have some sort of closure on what I think were the best experiences in gaming that I had this year.
Warhammer Total War 2 could best be described as my 13yr old self’s dream game. Just to put this into perspective I have a first gen Surface Book with a 940m variant DGPU. The screen runs at 3000x2000 and to game on it I generally have to use an external 1080p monitor. Warhammer 2 runs at 24fps with everything set to the lowest setting I can take it while being playable and it is still one of the best gaming experiences of this year for me. I finally launched the Wood Elf jihad that I had dreamt of since they killed the Old World. I began talking like Death-Master Snikch after slaughtering as many Stunties as I could get my claws on…yes-yes, stab-stab. I could finally become the Liche that I was always meant to be and use the bodies of those High Elves as the undead meatwall they were forever supposed to be. Fuck, yes, I love this game.
However, my GOTY goes to a very very different game. I actually hesitate to call it a game as it kinda exists in the boundary between game, art and literature. I’m not going to give my whole spiel about how I don’t view mass market ‘AAA’ games as art because that’ll piss someone off who ties their identity far too tightly to a commercial medium for their own sanity – that said…that said…
The Silver Case makes a very strong argument for games having the potential to be art, at least in my view. What do I mean by this? Well, for me art is something that makes you question things, it is the Walter Benjamin ‘shock’ of the new – of the different. Art does not bend the knee to its audience and explain itself. Art exists in and for itself and needs nobody to confirm its existence. Art is Experience – at least that’s what John Dewey said. The Silver Case is an experience. It’s a VN with elements of a Dungeon Crawler/Grid Blobber that turn it into a proto walking simulator. It’s a Suda51 game that does not give a shit about what you want and channels elements of the best of late 90s early 2000s anime like Serial Experiment Lane. Who is Kamui? Who are you? What are you doing and why are you doing it? What does that mean when we live in a connected society? Who, what, why? Who is feeding the turtle?
There is an argument to be made that the Silver Case is not a game, but it’s my game of the year and among my favourite gaming experiences of all time.
But that’s just me.
And that was 2020.
Games I look forward to playing next year:
Kara No Shojo
Metro Last Light/Exodus
Pokemon Renegade Platinum
Thanks for reading - hopefully we'll all have a better year.