It's hard to express what Giant Bomb is with any series of words. It's a website about video games. It's just a group of guys (and sometimes girls) playing video games. It's a place where discussions can be had, in length, about the merits of wielding a bat against a knife, and vice versa. It's lockdown (the song, not the quarantine). It's that place where those guys played all of Persona 4, and all of the Metal Gears, and trudged through 11 Mario Parties. It's a constellation made up of distant stars with their own unique glow, each one shining radiantly in a night sky and providing some small semblance of guiding light.
When I was dealing with anxiety and related sickness in my first week of college, Giant Bomb was a comforting shoulder I could lean on and rest my eyes. Of course, many other websites and influencers are these things as well, but Giant Bomb has always felt like it MEANT something more than just that. It was a place that encouraged people to be true to themselves and to dare to be how they want, no matter how crazy, or non-conventional, or irrational that may be. But it was also built on the hard work of determined people who dreamed to create something of their own, and who managed to put on a happy face in the darkest of times.
There are a lot of things I feel I owe to Giant Bomb that will never be repaid by subscription dues or merchandise purchases. A sense of self, a desire to pursue authenticity, and a reminder of what makes life worth living. Today is an end, not a definitive one, but one worthy of celebration, so let's give thanks to what we have had.
Thank you Jeff, for your unrelenting ambition and curiosity, and your unending pursuits in both showmanship and games. You are an army of influence that stirs inspiration in everyone around you, and manages to entertain them all along the way.
Thank you Ryan, for the warmth and kindness you shone down on Giant Bomb with your big happy smile and that feeling that if anything was wrong, you were a guy who would be willing to sit and talk about it.
Thank you Brad, who joined the Mile High Club and always found a blend of intelligent discussion with a willingness to laugh at himself or go with a joke.
Thank you Vinny, the nicest soul who could trip a million times and still pick himself up with a smile, capable of wielding infinite patience and joyfulness.
Thank you Alex, an inquisitive mind who managed to neutralize some of the chaos while bringing about his own percussive zaniness.
Thank you Drew, a charming man seemingly capable of anything he set his mind to, and one who inspires those around him to be their absolute bad.
Thank you Dan, the chaotic good of Giant Bomb who always sought to throw wrenches into any plan, but only with the best intention.
Thank you Abby, a voice that dared to be different amongst the bunch, offering alternate viewpoints and attitudes and never apologizing for it.
Thank you Austin, a true intellectual who can pick apart any narrative to examine every gear in its clockwork and understand what it's meant to turn.
Thank you Patrick, the scoop expert who brought an eye for smaller games and sought to highlight the best in the industry.
Thank you Ben, someone who reminded us that it's okay to feel and even be awkward at points, but never letting it prevent him from being himself or even cracking wise.
Thank you Jason, a voice of rationality and chaos amongst the insanity, and endured too many years of working with Dan.
Thank you Jan, for bringing your unique blend of culture to Giant Bomb and working to create an inclusive and welcoming community. I hope your Pokémon card problem is short-lived.
Thank you to the rotating chair of countless stars who crossed through the horizon. To Danny and Don Bradman Cricket, to John Vignocchi, Dave Lang, Adam Boyes, and the ruined phone number, to Phil Spencer and his insightful E3 discussions, to Jeff Bakalar and his rotating chair, to Marry Kish and her Downwell victory, to Will Smith's disintegrating VR avatar, and infinite others that can't be recounted.
Everyone who ever graced Giant Bomb, I thank you for helping make it what it was. It was everything.
2020 is over, and to eschew any “unprecedented times” talk that’s been repeated by corporations and government officials ad nauseum, I’m just gonna talk about video games that meant something to me this year. These are ordered by their date of release and not qualitatively, and just because a game is here doesn’t mean I absolutely love it; it just means I spent time with it, or it had some form of impact on me.
Thinking back to KR0 feels like forever ago not just because of how long-ago January was, but because of how long ago 2013 was. But, seven years later, act V of Kentucky Route Zero released, and the modern-day American folklore saga was completed. I played every act sequentially at the start of the year, and despite the slow start it manages to speed along into a triumphant gallop by its conclusion, telling a story about the tragedy of small-town life in an urbanized world. This is not a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game where dialogue options affect the outcome, but instead offers you flavor text options to select, allowing you to choose the ones you think taste best and offering the feeling that you too were helping tell the story. On top of its writing the score is excellent (particularly Too Late to Love You), and its 2D dioramas are beautifully designed.
I am in love with the idea and concept of Dreams, but one thing holds me back from really engaging with it: The DualShock 4. The evolution of Little Big Planet’s creator tools is incredible in scope and design, but I simply feel limited by having to interface with it through a gamepad. Sculpting and designing feels impossible with gyro controls, and I can’t help but wonder what the game would be like if I could plug my keyboard and mouse into my PlayStation. Despite that, writing this makes me want to boot it up again and see what sorts of crazy animations and silly games people have devised since I turned it on last.
This is a small addendum and reminder to myself that I actually visited PAX East this year, just before the shit hit the metaphorical fan. Exhibitors were noticeably absent, but I did get to play a small demo I was reminded of at The Game Awards for a game called Seasons. It is a game about observing the world that is and was from atop a bicycle, doodling in your notebook, and meeting the occasional stranger. I did not play much in my time there but having a developer hand me a clipboard in earnest and ask for my feedback told me that the team behind this gem are truly doing their best to craft the best experience they can.
Despite some odd rough spots around the edges, I still greatly enjoyed my adrenaline-ridden time with DOOM this year. I wasn’t too fond of how hard it leaned into campiness or the length of the last sequences, but the incredible speed and movement tools introduced were a perfect parallel to the quick-thinking and aim mechanics present in DOOM 2016. In hindsight it seems obvious that a game with great expectations would fail to surprise as a game with very negative expectations, and perhaps re-capturing the energy of DOOM 2016 was simply impossible. Still, Eternal could’ve done with less narrative sequences and less fucking Marauders.
I’ve written about Animal Crossing and how I feel like it’s a menial and misguided timesuck buried the appearance of a simple toy set, but I’m mentioning this here because despite how I feel I did spend a lot of time playing it. It was something nice to devote time to as said time seemed to be drenched in chaos, but I am left wondering how this game would have fared without opportunistic timing. Still, it was fun to have something that people engaged with en-masse, including people I don’t normally associate as ‘gamers’ or who simply fly outside of my circles. I just hope that at some point Nintendo learns how to make video games that take advantage of the internet, and maybe decides that the fun in Animal Crossing doesn’t always have to be tied to the in-game economy.
I’d played Persona 5 twice upon original release, but despite that got a good among of enjoyment replaying it one more time with little sprinkles of new content through confidants and updated dungeons. I think the late-game reveals with the new characters do a decent enough job of justifying the need to play through all of Persona 5 to get to them, but on the same hand part of me also wonders why these things can’t be released as DLC for the game I already own and not charge me another $60 to acquire. On top of that I think this does reinforce Persona as a multiple-choice quiz and not so much an RPG, as there is clearly a correct decision to be made and not selecting it denies you from playing the new dungeon. Still, I think Royal adds in a neat Twilight Zone-esque side story onto the back end of Persona 5 and adds in some killer new music.
To be truthful I actually didn’t get around to Umurangi Generation until December, but it is still a game I greatly enjoyed. It’s weird to think that photography would be compelling in something that looks like a PS1 game, but it actually is and taking random photos and tweaking filters is just a nice exercise, on top of exploring a near-future environmental apocalypse and how young people try to continue living despite it. The soundtrack is excellent lo-fi beats to take photos to, and I only wish I would’ve had more freedom and larger spaces to roam around in and observe as I saw fit, rather than being stuck with pre-assigned missions and a ten-minute time blimit per level.
Strangely enough, I happened to enjoy two different PS1 style games that released on May 19th, 2020. Boreal Tenebrae was a gem I plucked out of the 1,741 games in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, and is a adventure game set in a struggling small lumber town amongst the shuttering of its mill and a mysterious static overtaking everything. It is definitely not a linear game and wasn’t one I got around to finishing, but I still enjoyed getting to see events through separate perspectives, solve simple puzzles, and uncover this bizarre static-fueled story. Perhaps I’ll pick it up on Steam and start over again at some point.
Valorant was a game that launched amongst a perfect storm of troubles within Overwatch and CS:GO, as Riot seemingly aims to overtake Blizzard in being a live-game focused home for PC players, and as a game that is very brand safe without the terrorists or bombs of CS. It has gotten new maps, updates, and characters, but honestly it mostly came and went for me. I played it some, found it enjoyable, but also noted that it didn’t really offer the casual experience I enjoyed in CS, and was often annoyed if my preferred character wasn’t available. Still, it appears to be thriving in the background, and I regularly feel I’m hearing news of professional players from Overwatch and CS:GO migrating to Valorant in the hopes that Riot is able to maintain a more-stable ecosystem.
I could write for pages about this game and the myriad of reasons I both like and dislike it, so I’ll try to be succinct here. TLOU II is a game that tries a lot of things that games of this scale* really haven’t in the past. It kills a main character and deliberately lied about it before release, doctoring footage to show them in places where they were not, had a trans character prominently featured, and even had a sex scene. It does these things to varying levels of success, but for some of them it at least put a mark on the board where other AAA games could aim to follow up. That being said it ruined the beautiful ambiguity of part one’s ending, was an incredibly lengthy game that didn’t dictate good points for the player to pause and take breaks and worked a lot of people to the bone in order to be released. Still, it is an incredible production with wonderful set pieces both big and small and is a game that I’ve thought about more than any this year.
Oh boy. For better or worse League has eaten away the glut of time afforded to me by Unprecedented Times™ and has honestly made me like some other games less. The constant decision making, action, and strategy make it the best argument I’ve ever seen for games as an addiction, and it’s made me analyze a lot of my other playtime to see if I get the gameplay satisfaction from it as I do with League. It can be a frustrating experience as if you don’t win it’s not very enjoyable, and victory is always reliant on how well your teammates do or don’t play with you. But with over 150 champions who can sometimes be flexed across multiple roles and hundreds of thousands of permutations of each one with different runes and items, the game is infinitely deep. Were that not enough, League has its own culture as well with Twitch streamers, a deep and expansive universe, real world musical groups made up of in-game characters, and several other companion games coming to join it, including an MMO. It is a veritable rabbit hole, and should your name be Alice, you best not get too curious and fall in.
I played a little bit of this and found it to be a bit more enjoyable (and easier) as players have migrated away from it and new content has come rushing in to keep me out of date on it. The things I know about playing the game still ring true, and after randomly playing 5 ranked games I can place in Diamond as a Tank, which is neat. But I have no clue what is coming with Overwatch 2, and if it will matter or not with how far the game and its competitive scene tanked on the backs of Brigitte introducing GOATS and now mandatory 2-2-2. On top of that the game’s esports scene appears to be largely in shambles as entire rosters are destroyed and players rapidly retire, meaning that it has failed to build any long-lasting legacies or strong team brands.
I’ve played some of this recently, and it’s alright. The game has seemingly abandoned realism and instead focuses on adding gameplay mechanics and unique elements to the various maps, such as the loot truck that spawns on Sanhok, Karakin’s building-destroying black zones and blue zone-denying jammer packs, and Paramo’s randomly placed locations. But it is littered with highly skilled players who have hit max survival ratings and a woeful inability to select the map you wish to play on that can lead to a frustrating experience at times.
I’m not actually putting this here because I particularly liked playing this game, it’s simply another variation on a large list of secret identity games, but I can’t get over how this game became so popular that members of the United States Congress played it live on Twitch. I’m both equally excited and afraid for what that development would mean for games, streaming, and the U.S. government, but I’m fascinated that a game made by a team of four people over two years ago suddenly exploded and has now potentially opened Pandora’s box.
Trackmania 2020 is a bizarre product that appears to be reaching for the professional racing scenes of iRacing and other car-based esports with its free price and seasonal maps but offered a baffling subscription model to access seemingly core features like the server browser and was not listed on Steam. This might’ve been one of the reasons it came and went very quickly for me, but I still greatly enjoyed my time bumbling around in a casual server and listening to Cher’s Believe on repeated for extended period of time. To be frank, I don’t quite understand the future path for Trackmania, as it and the Trials series both seem to be awkwardly plodding along under Ubisoft’s publishing arm. Perhaps it might rotate back around to the all-encompassing gameplay experience of Turbo and reintroduce the server browser that PC weirdos enjoy, or maybe it will fall further into Ubisoft’s milquetoast efforts at creating a popular live game and sit alongside Hyperscape. To Trackmania 2020’s credit though it did give me the strongest emotional reaction of any game this year, when I heard this gem played on the Unofficial Classic server.
As many have said, Ghost of Tsushima is the best Xbox 360 game released in 2020. Beautiful vistas and a clear admiration of Japanese culture under-pin an experience that is largely about running from one icon on a map to another like dozens of open-world grocery lists that came before it. But I found this game to be a mindless-but-enjoyable reprieve and went as far as to earn its platinum trophy, so clearly it resonated with me. I enjoyed the soap opera-esque story it told and feel it ended wonderfully, but I was also willing to buy into its campy elements and accept that the game was being intentionally theatric. The gameplay is nothing innovative but entirely serviceable, Tsushima’s music is wonderful, and the game’s art direction is gorgeous from both technical and artistic standpoints.
It feels weird to see people in some circles suddenly knocking against Fall Guys or spouting ‘Dead Game’ dismissively at anything it does, because there was such a fervor for this when it released. The game did have obvious shortcomings though, in that it offered no randomization for individual levels so in a handful of runs you would have seen everything it had to offer, and the game had little-to-no mechanical depth. Still, it was nice to see a more approachable format to the ‘Battle Royale’ concept and to see a game that doesn’t have violence as an integral mechanic. Hopefully with more time Fall Guys can continue to iterate on what it has and reinvigorate players, because it very clearly has people interested in it.
Spiritfarer is a cozy management sim about managing cooldowns so you can make your friends happy and allow them to die in peace. No, really, that’s the game. Its characters are largely wonderful so seeing them go has significant weight, but their passing is a perfect capstone and feels as hopeful as it is sad. I found myself eagerly upgrading my boat, hunting for materials, and placating my passengers’ needs for various food with actual excitement, despite how mundane most of the tasks actually are. However it will have those frustrating moments as you feverishly hope the next destination will finally grant you that next step up the tech tree, but there isn’t really any sort of difficulty here, just a boat perpetually sailing towards an inevitable destination.
Hades is the result of a decade of the Supergiant team’s hard work, immense skill, and deep knowledge of what makes games good. It is hardly a reinvention of any wheel, but it intimately understands how to create compelling characters, how to incorporate randomization into narrative storytelling, and of course how to deliver fast-paced action in beautiful isometric environments. A multitude of feedback loops and unlocks to chase left me binging the game like mad, to the point that I completed a run on 32 heat and played nearly one hundred hours of it. Not only that, but the game has such a deep attention to detail that after I turned on the stopwatch in the options Hermes commended me for being diligent about my timeliness. The only qualms I might levy with Hades are the obtuse nature of some of its many side objectives and how it feels like some of them are completed seemingly at random, while others have very specific requirements that aren’t always clear. Still, Hades is a game that is well-considered in every aspect of its design, and a reminder that people like video games when every character in them is smoking hot.
I don’t understand Bugsnax. They’re kinda bug… but also kinda snack? Also why is everything so cute and adorable but also mildly depressing and disturbing? I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about Bugsnax, but I do know that I feel something. Catching the snax is at times and awkward and clunky experience, but the grumpusus (grumpi??) were actually somewhat compelling characters, even if I watched them mutate before my eyes. For some reason I felt compelled to complete everything Bugsnax had to offer, even though there didn’t really seem to be a tangible reward for doing so. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe the grumpinatti is getting to me, or maybe I was so intrigued by the bizarre smell of this onion with googly eyes on it that I had to peel back every single layer on it just to make sure it didn’t contain the secrets of the universe.
Also, yes the Kero Kero Bonito song is good and I bought it on vinyl, sue me.
Call of the Sea has an incredibly heartfelt story that resonated with me based on compelling and well-performed characters, good art design, and puzzles that were largely satisfying. Also for a first person adventure/narrative game Call is actually fairly lengthy, so certainly worth the money or checking it out if you subscribe to Game Pass.
I impulse bought this short walk through the park after seeing it on Steam, and I’m glad I did. It’s a short game about playing a young girl and running around an island taking pictures of animals with a phone and offers a wholesome message about how one person can work to impact their local community. There isn’t much to it aside from walking around the island and pressing an interact button on a bunch of structures to repair them or trash to pick it up, but if you like Animal Crossing and want a game that’s less time-sucking then this is it.
Plus it has the best use of an analogue stick all year.
This entry is somewhat tentative on this list, as I haven’t actually finished this game yet, but I’m definitely enjoying it and happy that I contributed to its Kickstarter all those years ago. It’s a beautiful Earthbound-esque RPG that has a pixel art overworld and hand-drawn combat encounters that look like they were done in colored pencils, as well as some other vignettes in this same style. That being said, I can’t help but wonder how the release of Undertale influenced the tone and character, as it very clearly is going for a similarly level of quirk, and in a pre-release demo incorporated a very on the nose ‘Excuse me, Princess!’ that appears to have been removed in the final version.Still, it has wonderfully intricate visuals, distinct characters, excellent music, and a sense of identity unto its own that has allowed it to stand on its own so far. Still, Omori is a game about fear but also coping and illness, and my hope is that it doesn’t aim to be a complete heartbreaker without any deeper meaning or intent. So far though the game has done a wonderful job at sprinkling in bits of charm and character between some terrifying imagery and themes, so I hope it finds a healthy balance at its conclusion.
I don’t aim to bring my club down on whatever remains of this well-beaten horse, but I found the game to be unplayable in its current state and am waiting until patches or even an expansion is released to make this adventure worthwhile. My only hope for games is that Cyberpunk exists as the quintessential example of just how bad things can go under crunched work environments, and other developers like Naughty Dog might take heed.
Bonus games I played and were really good but definitely didn’t come out this year:
I love Quadrilateral Cowboy’s silly retro futurism and Vinylmans alongside the pseudo-coding gameplay it offers, and my only wish is that the level-building scene had caught on more than it did. Its short levels are wonderful for trial and error, however as they offer a single solution there isn’t as much replayability here as you might hope; in another reality I would have loved levels of larger scope. But my only real complaint is an insatiable desire to have more of Quadrilateral Cowboy, so perhaps that’s a good thing.
Stephen’s Sausage Roll is insanity in a puzzle game, as I spent nearly 40 hours staring at blocky frankfurts and wondering how I could stab, roll, flip, and run over them in order to get a perfect grill. It takes a simple concept to every logical extreme it could devise, to the point that I never want to grill a sausage ever again. That being said, it feels like a game in which I stumble upon answers, and I am uncertain if I could go back and solve every puzzle without banging my head against a few walls.
For once, I actually decided to play one of the free games I’d been redeeming on the Epic Games Store, and I’m happy that I did. Crimes & Punishments had challenging puzzles, an actual need for detective work, and complicated decisions that made me want to pick up Devil’s Daughter, which is largely the same with a more profound story layered atop it. The production values aren’t the highest, but this game makes up for it with satisfying gameplay and a bit of b-game charm that make it recommendable (even if I did buy it for 80% off).
Disco Elysium is perhaps the most unique game I played all year, and maybe the only game I’ve played where brain functions are correlated to RPG mechanics. The writing is poignant, and the game clearly has a message to convey, which it does without sacrificing its own swagger for even a moment. I definitely plan to replay it in 2021 with The Director’s Cut and will eagerly wait to see what ZA/UM does next, and to see if something can replace ‘Ecstatic Vibrations, Totally Transcendent’ as my alarm clock.
Games I didn’t get to but maybe should have:
Paper Mario: The Origami King
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
The Last Campfire
Yakuza Like a Dragon
Ori & The Will of the Wisps
Final Fantasy VII Remake
If you put a gun to my head and demanded an ordered list of ten I would hastily compile this:
As someone who’d played the game for north of 800 hours over the course of three years, Overwatch felt long in the tooth. Rampant power-creep, a questionable esports ecosystem, and few friends left playing it made it easy to step away from the game. Casually, I had picked up Counter Strike: Global Offensive and invested almost 400 hours into that as I admired the tactile gun play and the arcade-esque approachability the game offers in casual modes. Then, because I am a supremely lucky person, I received Beta access to Valorant.
Overwatch is a Blizzard game that introduces the hero-based gameplay commonly seen in MOBAS into a Team Fortress 2 equation, with highly-vertical maps, drastically different characters, and the intense frenzy therein. Valorant is the third game from Riot Games, and incorporates that same hero-based design towards Counter Strike, a game known for methodical, measured gameplay with incredible mechanical depth. The announcement came as part of a grandiose ten-year anniversary video for League of Legends, in which Riot highlighted many games in development, including their card game Legends of Runeterra, a fighting game, a Diablo-esque isometric action game, and a first-person shooter that is now known as Valorant.
This video could warrant an article its own to highlight the execution, but two important things should be known about it. Firstly it was very knowing of gamer culture and highlighted what players would want from a game like this, (no lag, strong anti-cheat) and even leaning into jokes such as highlighting the ‘S’ in Riot Games, as the company was often mocked for its title while having only one title. Secondly, and more importantly, this video was released at a record low-point for public opinion of what can be called it’s closest rival, Blizzard entertainment. From the perspective of a player, these two companies that both specialized in online multi-player games for PC were headed in opposite trajectories. A narrative of excitement and success was quickly cemented around Valorant, while Overwatch was seen to be on a decline. As an aside, Valve was sponsoring CS:GO tournaments, but they were largely held by organizations like ESL and FaceIt, and paled in comparison to the $30+ million prize pool spectacles seen at the annual Dota 2 International.
That brings us to now, where Valorant now exists in a closed beta state where popular content creators have access to the game, and have latched onto it with frothing excitement. Fortune has it for Riot that an already excited audience is captive within their homes due to a pandemic, and is chomping at the bit in hopes of getting access to the game; This rarity only increases the fervor, not that it seems to need it at this point.
If I were to describe Valorant succinctly, it feels like CS:GO made more approachable in the modern year, with esports kept in mind. If this analogy seems reductive, I’d like to make it clear that CS features a weapon called the AWP (pronounced “aup”) that is a one-shot kill bolt-action sniper; Valorant features a weapon that functions the same and is called the Operator (pronounced “aup-erator,” often shortened to just “aup”). To avoid getting into specifics, the game’s economy is kinder with purchased ability charges persisting through death, a mini-map is constantly on screen, and the game sports a singular arsenal instead of having one for attack and defense ala Counter Strike. But it is simply not a simplified CS. Instead, its hero characters offer creative utility to players by allowing them to scout out information, block sight lines, slow advantages, and even secure some eliminations. Each offers a unique playstyle while still utilizing the same arsenal of weaponry, meaning that they are more approachable than heroes in Overwatch but offer a diversity not seen in CS. This is the pristine middle-ground.
It is also important to note that Valorant is set in a near-future version of earth, and sports a diverse cast of characters from across the globe, similar to what Overwatch has done. These characters are not only distinct and cohesive, but also make the game very brand friendly; CS:GO is the opposite of brand friendly. Counter Strike is a realistic military shooter where terrorist try to plant a bomb and destroy something (like a nuclear power plant)while a counter-terrorist force fights to stop them. Whether justified or not, the game has been associated with the Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech shootings and, as The Score Esports explains below, has left teams struggling to secure sponsors. Valorant simply solves this problem by simply labeling teams attack and defense, designing weapons from scratch so that players are wielding Vandals instead of AK-47s, and tasking them with planting a spike (which explodes like an expanding black hole) instead of a bomb. Perhaps some will be able to peel this thin veneer away and realize that these fire balls may as well be molotovs, but it seems likely that companies like Statefarm will have no trouble adopting Valorant as they have Overwatch.
Despite merely being in closed beta, esports organizations like 100 Thieves and Team Liquid have wasted no time and already begun to host show matches and tournaments, with the likely intention to develop teams in the near-future. This instant gravitation towards the game is similar to what was seen last year with Apex Legends, but now has the potential to be skyrocketed forwards by the company in charge of the monolithic and international esports infrastructure of League of Legends. Many prominent players have also begun migrating away from their current games, mainly Overwatch, towards something that does not have any announced leagues or tournaments solely because of that same potential.
Personally I enjoy the game, but have waned slightly from shooters, and will enjoy the game in a casual setting. It offers a fun twist on traditional gameplay without uncontrollably expanding the scope of the game like battle royales have. Despite my interest lacking the same unfiltered excitement that others have shown, I think Valorant can go on to be enormous, particularly given how well-considered its design and launch have been in the current landscape.
I let out a groan, watching as a precious tarantula skitters off the edge of a pond and topples down into the water with a splash, never to be seen again. Begrudgingly, I resign myself to claiming the nearby giant water bug, haphazardly tossing my net into the water and fishing it out. I now know I’ve effectively lost 6,000 bells because of the difference in selling price for these bugs to Timmy and Tommy; if Flick has arbitrarily decided to grace my island with his presence that increases my loss to 9,000 bells as he buys everything for x1.5 its value. This is my third trip to a Nook Island today, with each visit costing me two thousand Nook Miles and requiring me to craft a new set of tools each time, as I leave them behind so I can carry more precious bugs back home with me. Given the decrease in payout, I now grapple with the simple question of ‘Am I earning enough bells for this to be worth my time?’
Despite its adorable, toy-esque appearance, Animal Crossing New Horizons is a game that is teeming with economic decision-making and, somewhere deeper than that, systems that will generate a greater resentment for capitalism as a driving force within society. Of course, Animal Crossing’s capitalism is not our capitalism because, hypothetically speaking, Animal Crossing is never stricken with plagues that prevent people around the globe from going to work and more brazenly than that the value of the Bell neither increases nor decreases. However that does not prevent itself from presenting players with copious monetary expenses for access to in-game items and accommodations, all of which are paid through a simple loop of gather resources then sell items then spend money. Ignoring the potentially problematic narrative of draining natural resources for profit, this gameplay cycle feels like it is designed to resemble a cathartic, ritualistic practice akin to tending to a garden: It requires effort, but is supposed to reward through self-satisfaction. Still, as prices for items and home upgrades increase the means for acquiring wealth remain the same, and a drastically higher time-investment will be required for a player to complete their fourth home upgrade as opposed to their first, and they will watch their returns dwindle before their eyes.
Back on my island I deposit the collected insects in my home as I must wait for 8 AM in real-world time for the shop to open where I may sell them; until then they will act as a burden in my inventory, with each one taking up an individual space in my storage capacity. I venture back outside, passing the museum filled with bugs, fossils, and fish I have collected and surrounded by flowers I grew over the course of several real-life days. Along the way I encounter one of my villagers, Lyman the lime-colored koala, who once again tells me something about his workout regimen, as his identity seems to revolve solely around his time in the gym. Every time I speak to him, or any of the other animal denizens of my town, it feels as if I am pulling the string on the back of a doll to hear it recite one of its voice lines. These conversations hardly convey depth within their personalities and rarely offer any form of back-and-forth dialogue that has been prevalent in role-playing games for decades. Instead they are simply cute, Lyman is enjoying himself and has flowers rotating around his head while he emotes, the simplistic model offering a broad smile across its softly-textured face. Regardless, I step into the tent I assembled to allow me to recruit new citizens to move onto my island, and am greeted to a blue and yellow color-eagle. He is a prick, but as I’d like to improve my island and this is sometimes gated behind the number of villages who live there, I recruit him anyways.
To further this analogy that the villagers of Animal Crossing are toys, the system for collecting them is a simple capsule machine; insert your quarter and hope you receive the one you want. Remember those? Despite them not being as prevalent as they once were, they are plentiful in digital landscapes, from gacha games to loot boxes, all offering the thrilling adventure of popping something open and praying that it will contain the missing member within your collection. Those systems were designed with the simple prospect of generating money, and as Animal Crossing players can recruit a specific villager to move in by acquiring an Amiibo card for that character which are purchased, get this, in card packs, this feels much the same. It acts as an arbitrary, and brazenly foul, exploitation to prevent players from easily accessing cosmetic content within a game that they have spent money, not bells, on.
Our strange dichotomy lies here, in the fact that purchasing this toy set does not simply allow you to play with the toys, and instead requires an immense amount of inane assembly in order to acquire specifically what you’d like. But this is a digital play set, and the reason that I must spend my evenings hunting tarantulas for eight thousand bells a piece are arbitrary; the toys could have come assembled, but I am meant to enjoy assembling them. I, however, do not, particularly when it sometimes gives the impression that the assembly process is extended like something from a game that is hoping you will continue to pay its subscription; Animal Crossing costs a one-time fee of sixty dollars. Perhaps I’m likening Animal Crossing to Minecraft’s Adventure mode, and wishing it would include a Creative variant where I am unrestricted by resource and am allowed to select the villagers I desire in a town of my constructing. Or perhaps I’m frustrated that this video game decides to resemble real-world quandaries of repetitive labor in the name of affording goods I desire and doesn’t instead provide me an outlet to expel that frustration (I would love to shit talk Nook with my other villagers). Either way, I can’t shake this feeling that Animal Crossing is a game that could perhaps be enjoyed even without traditional game concepts such as progression or an economy, and instead lean on the charm and character that is wholly unique to it.
After 25 hours of listening to a group of people debate the best games of (the year of our lord) 2017, I figured that the only way to properly recover from such an ordeal was to repeat the process myself. Of course unlike them my list will look a bit different because I didn't get to play every game I might have wanted to, but there is a game on here I haven't played, and I game I played was purposely excluded. So, let's talk about some games and discuss their finer points because games aren't fun unless we turn them into a game, shall we?
Game That Has No Business Being on Anyone's List:
One of, if not my largest, gaming guilty pleasures was Destiny. Over it's 3 year span, I sunk over a thousand hours into the game, bought every expansion, various merchandise, and even got to know a divorced man from Kansas City who I met over LFG. The game was a bit disjointed, had a multitude of issues, but that roughness gave it an admirable bit of character. Watching it shape over time, evolving to add things it always should've had, and take a few missteps was at the least interesting. There was possibility, and it seemed like every expansion was a step towards the potential of what we all thought Destiny could be, with smart refinements on the original package to make it easier to enjoy. In Destiny 2 I see no such possibility.
The core gameplay and content is at it's strongest, however all of the issues in the wrapping and endgame of Destiny 2 have regressed in almost every way imaginable. The heroic strike playlist, an activity that made strikes approachable, repeatable, and an activity that dropped worthwhile loot, were removed at launch. Instead the were replaced with a playlist that dropped nothing of worth, and subsequently re-instated with a paid expansion. Cosmetic items that players might have locked from activities were stripped out, and hidden behind microtransactions and loot boxes, meaning that it was impossible to attach cosmetic items to tasks a player had actually completed. The variety in the crucible was destroyed, with 3v3, 6v6, and free-for-all modes being consolidated into 4v4, and popular editions like Rift (Capture the flag) and Zone Control fell by the wayside. The weapons system was changed to consolidate special and heavy weapons into one slot, and allow players to keep two primary firearms, reducing the feeling of power in any load-out exponentially. And to boot it all off the game has had no problem reintroducing exotic items from the first Destiny, so that players can enjoy re-earning content that was taken from them previously.
If Destiny 1's problem was that it was too ambitious, then Destiny 2's problem is that it lacks ambition. In making things more approachable it lost the variety and depth of it's predecessor, and some of it's charm along with it. It's a tight shooter with well designed activities, but the way those activities work to form a greater progression system, and the loot system that players are supposed to be chasing, leave a lot of things to be desired. It would take a lot of things to fix Destiny 2, and it's certainly not impossible, but I have been left with no faith that it will be the game I might want it to be.
#10 (Game I really should have played)
NieR seems really cool. I played the demo for NieR when it came out and it seemed pretty lame, especially as someone who doesn't really play character action games. But from what I've heard, it seems like something I will enjoy, so I'm going to make a good effort to invest the necessary time into it in 2018.
I nearly didn't finish Night in the Woods. Slow-pacing, meandering, and those out-right annoying dream sequences nearly made me stop playing, but in the end I'm glad I finished it. The game doesn't always merge it's two seemingly unrelated plots, or provide the best conclusion, but it's full of heart, charm, and mystery that were enough to make me finish it. I just wish it would have hooked me sooner then it did.
Cuphead is pretty damn rad. It nails it's aesthetic in every possible way and is a the best "You just have to look at this for 5 seconds" game this year. That being said it's a fairly simple game that is fun and enjoyable, but really just comes down to pattern-recognition and execution. Still, given the game's incredible success I can't wait to see what the creators might be able to do next.
To think that the people behind Killzone would've made a game with this rich of a world is miraculous. It's got a great story with reveals and interesting dynamics, plenty of world to explore, and a strong female lead. Also I think robot dinosaurs fighting future cave-people with bows is pretty fuckin' cool. That being said the game's structure was a bit too Far Cry 3 for my taste, and maybe could have done with less icons on it's map. It's another case of, "I can't wait to see the next one of these"
Wolfenstein II does the best it can for a middle-chapter in a trilogy, but it still leaves some things to be desired. The game talks up the idea that you want to build America into a fighting force, yet during the course of the game you never really get to see people being called into action. Still it challenges a lot of politically relevant ideas and brings on some of the most insane cutscenes a game has ever had, but it's level and encounter design reflect none of that. Hopefully Wolfenstein III can make the improvements it needs to make and wrap this story up somehow.
I have a confession to make: I might have a crush on Supergiant Games. Their art direction, writing, sound design, soundtracks, and genre-blending gameplay are everything that I love in games, and Pyre is no exception. Everything in it's concept in execution display a pure imagination that isn't seen in a ton of other places, and work to create worlds that are some of the most realized out there. It's sad to think that some would pass it up because of it's presentation, because I think that Pyre is a whole lot more then just some text.
Mario is just a whole lot of fun. It's a gleeful journey through a strange world with tight platforming action that has a good amount of depth to it. If the dreariness of 2017 has you down and you need a pick-me-up, then play Super Mario Odyssey. The moons might be a bit repetitive, overly-simple, and constantly sprinkled throughout in a way that might make you tired of them by the end, but finding them still manages to feel satisfying. And it's a cool nostalgia trip, for all you old bogies.
A lot of the arguments as to why PlayerUndergrounds Battleknowns is such a good game have already been made, but let me bring up a few more points. The game is a bit of a sandbox, and allows players to engage with it however they chose, no matter how lame that might actually be. Spending the whole game looting, or hiding in a bathroom are strategies that the game allows players to engage with, just the same as going out in a blaze of glory. It's a game about playing within that sandbox, and not about making it to the end, as the drab winning screen might suggest. The most important thing I hope game developers might extract for it is the want for open-world, online, competitive shooters. I think there's a hell of a lot that Destiny could learn from PUBG.
I have a lot of complaints about Breath of the Wild, mainly about the wrappings around the game. It's lame threat, over-used characters, and wet fart of an ending leave a lot to be desired. I hope Nintendo will soon take the old Zelda lore books and dump them into a trash can so they can create new characters, worlds, and species, because a game that's built around discovery shouldn't really be so predictable. Once a player has opened the whole map they can identify all of the separate domains and who might be there, instead of having to actually go there and find out themselves. Some of the other decisions were a bit frustrating and had some more acceptable solutions, like being able to pick up enemy weapons to fix the durability of your current weapons. Still, the game's open-ended nature is refreshing, there's no sequence of events that has to be followed, and there are things that can be skipped entirely if a player so desires. It's another game with a lot of potential, and maybe needs more then one attempt to realize all of that potential.
There are a lot of things wrong with Persona 5. The game's reliance on anime for comic levity is a bit tiring, since most of that stuff is perverted and homophobic. There are long parts of the game where Morgana keeps telling you to go to sleep. There's really no reason for the game to require you to play it twice in order to see all the confidant stories. The part where you're supposed to feel like you're searching for a target or questioning whether you should go after a target even though the game has told you who the target is is really dumb. Some of the main characters are really one-note and get really tiring towards the end (I'm looking at you Ryuji). But there just aren't other games like Persona 5. A game with a real-life setting that puts youth in power to fight against societal injustice doesn't really exist like it does. That and the incredibly art and sound really take Persona over the edge to make an impact on the player. The feeling of inspiration some got from NieR is what I got from Persona. The ways they improved on Persona 4 are really smart, and having completed this project makes me hope that P Studio can finally move on to create a game with a more fully-realized world, and one that takes less from the bad parts of anime.
Recently you issued a statement about the limitations imposed on those wishing to stream and share videos of Persona 5 online. While there is rationale to the decision you have made, I'd like to point out some of the follies of this approach and the direction you might be headed in.
Let's start with the problem: Persona 5 is a highly story-focused game and you're wary that people will feel satisfied watching the game online instead of playing it. This is amplified by the fact that the game has had a heavily extended development time and was therefore incredibly expensive to produce, meaning that you would likely need to make a lot of money in order to be able to continue operating. And at the same time, the trend of streaming games online and recording 'Let's Plays' has grown exponentially, with Youtube's most subscribed channel PewDiePie being devoted to games and Amazon acquiring game streaming site Twitch.tv for 970 million dollars.
So you're faced with a conundrum, how can you make money as a game developer when so many people are watching for free online? The answer is simple: Merchandise. Merchandising for games has become so popular that there are several websites and organizations devoted to it, such as Fangamer and iam8bit. Additionally some game developers create their own stores and merchandise which they sell to consumers directly, Bungie is an excellent example of this. Not only is merchandising a great stream of revenue that is extremely popular with internet-savvy millennials who would love Persona, but Persona itself is a property that is ripe with underutilized opportunities for merchandise. Things such as soundtracks, t-shirts, hats, bags, posters, even masks would all be beloved by all people who are interested in Persona, whether they've played it or not. Items like these could be sold online around the globe, as well as at popular conventions and other distribution sites.
But there's a larger issue here, and that's the viewpoint that a decision like this takes. In the world's ever-evolving media culture people love to share experiences and ideas, and to engage people. By preventing people from streaming Persona 5, you not only prevent them from expressing themselves and their interests, but you prevent them from sharing Persona with others, and therefore exclude it from the wider internet culture. This not only makes it hard to distribute merchandise, but also makes it harder to sell copies of the game. Sure people watch commercials and read written previews online, but now they often wait for a game to be released so they can see footage of the completed project. With your limitations, you have made showcasing Persona impossible for some, and have heavily demotivated others. If they can't stream the whole thing, they're likely to stream none of it. There's a greater concept here that's going to influence the future of marketing, and it's the power of Free, there's even a whole book about it. The gist of it is this: People no longer wish to pay up front for products, but instead are more likely to purchase things that are accessory to those products.
I'd like to say one final thing, and it's that this this situation is painted with a humorous layer of irony. Persona 5 is a game about thievery, deception, and changing the hearts of misguided adults, but it's being chained up behind streaming and sharing restrictions. ATLUS, it's time for a change of heart. Game streaming and sharing are not your enemy, instead they're something that can be used to your advantage, you just need to take the opportunity.