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Favorite Game From Every Year

Yeah, this is the Twitter thing that’s been clogging my feed circa July/August ‘22. I don’t want to spend any time pumping content onto that hellsite so… here we are. Games are picked with minimal release date fudging (don’t be a pedant).

The list ends at 1988 because that’s where I lose continuity. Super Mario Bros. sits alone in 1985 with multiple years vacant on either side. It seemed against the spirit of the thing to skip years.

I may come through to editorialize and write a bit about these games but no promises.

List items

  • 1995

  • 2003

  • 2002

  • 2001

  • 2000

  • 1999

  • 1998

  • 1997

  • 1996

  • 2004

  • 1994

  • 1993

  • 1992

  • 1991

  • 1990

  • 1989

  • 1988

    You know how children’s toys from before the mid 80’s are all vaguely haunting and horrifying? The Manhole manages to be a piece of children’s software that gives off that unsettling vibe in the very best way. I played Myst with my dad when I was a toddler and, even though it made me anxious, I loved it. Meanwhile The Manhole was actively terrifying. I sat with rapt attention— navigating the iconic black & white reality of early hypercard games while fully expecting that *something* was ready to jump out and get me at any time. It’s one of the oldest games from my childhood collection, and one of the least used. I hated/loved my time with it.

    Please note that any remastered, updated, or colorized versions aren’t the same as the original. They make creative/interpretive choices that make the world considerably less dreamlike and unsettling. I can’t recommend them any less.

  • 2012

    To talk about Far Cry 3, we need to take a bit of a walk.

    In 2009 I got a solid high school job, a decent laptop, and a bank account I could hook to Steam. That was the first time I could fully explore a world of games that might’ve raised eyebrows if they’d been played on the family TV or computers. I devoured a back catalog of all-time hits; Portal, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed II, GTA IV, and a pile of others that would cycle through Summer and Winter Sales at insane prices.

    Before I hit that milestone my experience with games was locked to Mac shareware and Nintendo handhelds. I can remember sneakily switching to X-Play as a grade-schooler for a glance into this alternate universe of ‘grown-up’ games. Years later, when I first got a modern console (A used Xbox 360 S) in early 2012 I stepped into a few new worlds at once. The first was being able to play console exclusives and games that were relatively new. My wheezy little laptop wasn’t able to play new games when I got it in 2009— there was no way it was going to keep up moving forward. The next major change was graduating high school and having a steadier job as I prepped to enter college. I was able to buy new releases and keep up after years of surviving on my substantial backlog. The last change was being old enough that my folks (and friends’ parents) didn’t give a shit about what media we were consuming.

    My parents had always been progressive in their view of what my sister and I could handle, but games were more of a blind spot, and came with some unease that wasn’t there with film, music, and TV. I spent a few years between 14 and 17 playing just about everything, but not really talking to my parents about it. I wasn’t hiding it per se, but I wasn’t advertising the types of games I was crossing off of my backlog. By the time I hit 18 the adults in my life, free of the pressure to parent, could just relax and start to critically assess the games I was playing as media objects, rather than whether they were ‘appropriate’ or not. All of these changes came together with the release of Far Cry 3.

    I don’t think Far Cry 3 is a masterpiece, and it’s ground zero for the Ubisoft open world misery, but it is responsible for my single favorite gaming memory of all time. On a chilly December day I was sitting at my best friend’s house on winter break. I had just picked up Far Cry 3 and had hauled my console over so we could start it together. His dad, an elementary school teacher, was also on break and home. We had an absolute blast and I can remember the three of us laughing hard enough that I had to pause when we first got jump scared by a crocodile grabbing us in the water. It was one of those moments where I could feel the difference between being seen as a kid and being seen as a peer to an adult in my life. We spent the entire afternoon getting into all kinds of hijinks and poking around at the open-world jank.

    It’s the small things that end up sticking with you— this was just some random vacation day when I was 17 where I played Far Cry 3 in front of my friend and his dad— but it was a culmination of a ton of minor tweaks to how I engaged with media and an indicator of the shift in life stage I was going through. I’ll never be able to think about the saturated tropical landscape of this game without thinking about this memory.

  • 2020

    Hades is the first game that starts diverging from my GOTY lists on the site. There are a few games like this that, free from the context of my year, continue to rise in my estimation as the years tick by.

    2020 was a dark year (aren’t they all?) so many of my favorites were wreathed in a beleaguered positivity that was very appealing at the time. I don’t regret or shy away from those feelings— they’re an integral part of my lived experience of 2020– but as we get some space I can see which game on my GOTY list stands out most clearly.

    Hades is a superb magic trick. It wants you to look at the taut roguelike gameplay while it slips a genuinely affecting story into your pocket. I love the way it encourages One More Run with story hooks not just mechanical satisfaction. We’ll see if it remains evergreen.

  • 2019

    As a teacher this game speaks directly to me. It’s a game about fighting turn based strategy battles while also building relationships and mastering your in-class pedagogy. What could be better?

  • 2018

    I think most of my GOTY lists make sense in retrospect but there’s one glaring year that I just don’t understand— 2018. The year was fiercely competitive since I had bought a Switch in the fall and my GOTY lists are always based on what’s new to me, not necessarily what was released. So what titans were jostling with Hitman 2 for my top spot? Breath of the Wild, AC Origins, and Red Dead Redemption 2. That’s what makes it so absurd that God of War took the top spot that year. In retrospect Breath of the Wild should have taken #1 with Hitman in a comfortable #2. I don’t know why I was so taken with GoW but I do know that only one game deserved to be ahead of Hitman 2.

    That’s a lot of damning with faint praise, but there’s not much to say about this entry into the series. At the time it was radical to have the whole series available in a single launcher and I spent a boatload of time playing it. In many other years it would have run away with #1. That’s why I’m glad to be giving it proper kudos here. I do think it’s the best game of 2018 and this format keeps BotW locked up in its proper release year. Everyone wins!

  • 2017

    Ultimately I think my obvious snub of Breath of the Wild on my best of 2018 list comes down to two factors:

    First, I was concerned about the fact that it wasn’t actually from 2018. I’d had no problem adding games to my list that reflected the year as I experienced it but I was hesitant to have one of those games top billing. This is, of course, stupid nerd shit. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters! I make the rules for my own personal list and then publish to a website where (if it’s a big year) fewer than a dozen random strangers ever read it. I always knew this was the case, but internalizing this realization has made the process of compiling year-end lists much more enjoyable.

    Second, I was worried that I was fighting off external and recency bias. I had just finished a year of breathless (oof) praise for the game and played the game at peak personal hype. When it exceeded those sky-high expectations I was worried that I was bowing to peer pressure and my own recency bias. My switch was brand new to me in fall of 2018 and Breath of the Wild held my almost undivided attention for the remainder of the year. Looking back now I can see that there’s no doubt that BotW is an all-timer and deserves the praise.

    There’s not much to say about this game that hasn’t been covered at length. It’s quiet and contemplative— even lonely in spots. That’s why I’m drawn to it at least once a year. That palette is really attractive to me. As social as I am, I crave solitude and love games that deliver this feeling to me. That will be a recurring theme throughout this list with several of my all time favorites offering the feeling (Skyrim, GTAV, Elite, Myst, EV Nova and more). I don’t begrudge anyone who isn’t hooked by Breath of the Wild, but I do hope they find a game that speaks to them in the way it speaks to me.

  • 2016

    Blood Money broke me the first time I played it. I’d never experienced the kind of clockwork world in which your exploration and diligence could earn you impish omniscience and the power to control everything.

    Coming out of Absolution in 2012 I had bargain-basement expectations but high hopes. I was skeptical of the episodic format but as soon as Paris dropped I was a believer. Once Sapienza was released I was fully ready to evangelize to anyone who would listen.

    Knowing about the trials that ioi have overcome to release each of these games makes it even more amazing that we’ve been able to enjoy them (and that they’re good) over the last 6 years.

  • 2015

    Some games feel like they age in reverse. Maybe it’s MGSV’s systemic idiosyncrasies or a realistic but profoundly odd art style/graphical treatment that have left it feeling like a game out of time. Whatever it is, my 2022 replay is the first from-scratch replay I’ve embarked on since my original 250 hour platinum trophy odyssey and it feels as fresh and engaging as when I first played. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as (if not more) keenly aware of the shortcomings and missed opportunities in the game. None of that matters to me when I’m out in the desert waiting for sunset to clear out an outpost and snatch its guards like some sort of mercenary pied piper.

  • 2014

    I hadn't expected this writeup to feel as much like a eulogy as it does. Elite Dangerous is still ticking forward but nothing Frontier has done in the last 3 years has filled the community with much confidence. I was devastated when it was announced that active development of the newest (and divisive) expansion, Odyssey, was ceasing development for consoles. Having only ever played the game on my TV I was bummed that I wouldn't see that content, sure, but I was more concerned about what it said about the ongoing viability of the platform.

    And somehow none of this really matters. Things change, or fade away, or die. That's the way life works. Nothing can ever change the impact Elite Dangerous had on my life when I really needed it. I saw distant stars, took a month long trek to the center of the galaxy, discovered untouched worlds that no other players had ever seen, blasted my way out of player and pirate ambushes, and most importantly, had relaxed with some old school space trucking after days that left me anxious and stressed.

    This year of kind-of-post-pandemic-kind-of-it's-just-here-forever recovery has been a reminder that time doesn't leave anything untouched and unchanged. This includes mainstays in my life-- podcasts, sites, or other media that helped me navigate the stresses and low-points. Luckily I've also changed over time and can find joy in the things that I've loved and peace in knowing they don't always have to be mainstays.

    I look back at the decade I've been following Giant Bomb and smile. I've loved it and STILL love it, but making peace with the changes in the site, with fading games like Elite, and the ways the world around us have been radically altered by the last two years was important. It means that I don't have to be so tied to the rituals I've made for myself that I feel guilty if I skip them. By being forced to change I've internalized that it isn't as big a deal as it can feel. In practice this means that I was able to skip an episode of the Bombcast for the first time in 10 years and not feel like I was missing a vital part of my week. There were more important things going on in my life, I had limited time and other podcasts episodes that caught my eye, and it was okay to just mark it as played and move on.

    I recognize this could sound like some bizarre admission of parasocial brain-rot, so I hope you can hear what I'm clumsily trying to get at. It's not about one particular game or podcast. It's about being willing to accept that interests and focuses shift and that personal ritual (although important) can be changed without issue. If you've never dealt with anxiety I don't know that this will track, that's fine, But if you've been in a frame of mind like I have, one where the little rituals of day-to-day life lend vital stability and comfort, then I think you'll get it.

    SO, here's to letting an entry on a list of video games turn into a lil' diary entry. Godspeed Elite Dangerous-- no matter where you go from here I'll always appreciate the time I got to spend reaching for the stars.

  • 2013

    I'm writing these entries in order and WOW RIGHT BACK DOWN TO EARTH HUH. For every bit of nostalgic navel-gazing as Elite Dangerous inspired GTA V inspires equal and opposite feelings. I still think this game is a triumph and I find that the gameplay and exploration have aged well, but the story and writing have aged like milk. Nothing leaves a worse taste in my mouth in the year 2022 than the writing in this story mode. Even at the time I found it embarrassing. I was thrilled by the depth and beauty of the open world. I loved just driving around in the hills, soaking in some new tourist trap by the side of the road. Anytime I tried to share this with someone else though, holy hell, pure excruciating cringe.

    GTA V will feel modern and slick until the precise moment that a sequel is released and then, just like its predecessors, it will collapse into a pile of dust, old tech, and dude-bro cliché. Here's hoping that Rockstar (freed from the tyranny of the Hauser/Benzies empire) will be able to produce a work that shows how immersive and beautiful games can be without the unfortunate inclusion of a script hastily scrawled on the toilet paper from a frat house bathroom.

  • 2021

    A perfect capstone. No series can compete with the insane amount of lovingly crafted content, replayability, and creativity that ioi have packed into the World of Assassination trilogy. The third entry demolished a competitive 2021 GOTY list and proved to me that I could still play games even after having a kiddo.

    It’s worth remembering that everything that can be said about the other two games can be said about H3 since their content has been brought forward and improved.

    Truly an all-timer.

  • 2011

  • 2010

  • 2009

  • 2008

  • 2007

  • 2006

  • 2005