By Samcb 2 Comments
I'm gonna spare you all more talk about how garbage this year was for everything besides games and just get to the list. At least you get to murder nazis in video games.
I spent some time this summer getting intimate with the original Evil Within (at the behest of those with my best interests in mind). It’s a messy, weird game that poses a few cool ideas, but it gets bogged down in repetitive combat encounters, dull world design, and a story that feels like it’s trying to establish a franchise’s worth of history in a single game. It was frustrating, because there were these brief flashes of something much better in its unique monsters and surreal horror roots.
The Evil Within 2 is everything that game should’ve been. Opening up the world turns combat into what’s essentially a better version of The Last of Us's combat with more traps. The story dials it back on the info dumps and focuses more on its characters, which gives it a grounding that makes the bizarre horror more effective. Most importantly, it leans into the potential weirdness of its concept, instead of setting everything in a bland European countryside that looks like it’s built out of assets from Resident Evil 4.
The Evil Within 2 isn’t perfect, but it’s got charm. It does enough things that most horror games don’t nowadays, and does them well enough, that it’s worth getting excited about.
The Zelda series has always been more about atmosphere and sense of place than about game mechanics for me. It’s why Twilight Princess is still my favorite. It was one of the first games that made me feel like I was on some grand adventure, the chosen one destined to save the world from a great evil threatening my friends and family. If that Link was the chosen one, Breath of the Wild’s is some jackass who eats rocks and keeps drowning five feet from shore.
Breath of the Wild’s antagonistic in ways that few open world games dare to be. I’d heard comparisons to Far Cry because of the towers and enemy camps, but to me it’s like Far Cry because I’m constantly running around like my hair’s on fire. Sometimes it literally is. Nintendo’s knack for intricate and intuitive game systems turns this Hyrule into a chaotic Thunderdome where 40 different layers of game mechanics are always coming into play, and could either help or betray you at any given moment. It revels in this chaos in a way that reminds me of Hitman at some points.
While the aesthetic and atmosphere fell a little flat for my personal taste, the sense of place here is really something special. There are plenty of open world games where you become familiar with the setting by memorizing locations and optimal paths, but the familiarity I have with Breath of the Wild’s open world feels like I’m living on the back of some omnipotent being that’s making me dance for its amusement. Ganon isn’t the villain in Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is.
Splatoon 2 is a game where you get to wear knockoff Jordans and shoot each other with paint while a bunch of sea creatures freak out on ska drums in the background. I’m not really sure what else I need to say about this one.
While it doesn’t feel like a major step up from the original besides some minor improvements, that original game still takes place in my favorite world Nintendo’s ever built. I want to know everything about this strange, Jet Set Radio-esque squid world and the culture that inhabits it. This game’s sense of style has every bit of Nintendo’s usual level of polish and care, but applied to sweet guitar riffs and wide, sickeningly saturated color palettes.
I wish the single player was more involved, and I wish I didn’t have to thumb through so much entry dialogue every time I start the game up, but I can deal with the minor nitpicks if it means I can dive headfirst into this world any time I want.
After finishing Super Mario Odyssey, I realized I haven’t really been satisfied with the past few 3D Mario titles. 3D World was great, and I’d love to see more of it, but it also felt like a lightly expanded New Super Mario Bros. game. Galaxy 1 and 2 were fully fledged, mechanically inspired 3D Mario games, but the complete linearity of the worlds and objectives didn’t capture what made 64 special to me. I wanted to collect stars, not just beat levels.
Odyssey scratches this itch better than any game in the series. The idea of picking up moons all over the place was concerning to me at first. It’s gonna lack a sense of accomplishment if you’re doing it every couple minutes, right? Odyssey addresses this by building the satisfaction into the game mechanics and levels themselves. I didn’t go out of my way to get all the bonus moons because I wanted the number to go up, I did it because every single one feels like something that would've been fun to do anyways. Except that last level.
Sure, it’s a collectathon, but it’s the best damn collectathon I’ve ever played.
Sure, it kinda falls apart in the second half, and it’s not as much of a clean break from series continuity as I’d hoped, but when Resident Evil 7 is firing at all cylinders, it’s one of the best horror games in decades.
The grimy, Texas Chainsaw Massacre setting The grindhouse vibe is a genius marriage of legitimate horror and the series’ trademark camp in a way that doesn’t feel forced or out of place. The cannibalistic Baker family had me laughing out loud more than just about any other game this year. Almost enough to forgive them for burning me alive that one time.
I’ve probably watched people play the first hour of this game at least a dozen times at this point, and it never gets old. I do understand some of the disappointment that the entire game doesn’t hit as hard as that opening, I was glad to have some downtime to explore the mansion in between my run-ins with its inhabitants.
If Resident Evil 7 had stuck the landing and had enough confidence to fully explore its new ideas without falling back on series mainstays, it would probably be higher on this list. That said, if Capcom learns from this game’s shortcomings, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Sure, it’s this big, dumb, loud thing that has zero subtlety and is maybe a bit too hasty to make jokes, but Wolfenstein II hits hard. There’s a stretch somewhere around the halfway mark that just keeps getting crazier and crazier in ways I just couldn’t believe. Only one other game this year left me in front of my computer with my mouth agape more often than Wolfenstein II did.
I played and loved The New Order, so I knew to expect completely ridiculous plot developments and broad swings in tone handled with more grace than most films. What I didn’t expect was the immense amount of love and respect for its characters that radiates through every interaction in this game. It’s not just the jokes and action sequences, either.
Wolfenstein II’s cast thrives in the quiet moments, like just walking around the U-boat and listening to the idle conversations. There was an encounter with Wyatt late in the game that started off silly, but ended up touching me more than it probably should have (the conversation that ends with “I love you, man”). I got attached to this ragtag band of Nazi murderers in a way I haven’t felt since the Normandy crew in Mass Effect 2. Plus, I even thought the combat was alright!
A million deaths outside the play zone and bad loot drops can’t undermine how unbelievably satisfying it feels just to kill another player, though. I’ve spent some time in elimination style shooters like Counter Strike, and sure, they’ve all had their share of intense moments. Battlegrounds though, by way of match pacing and just the right amount of random chance, manages to capture more intensity on a near constant basis than even the highest stakes match in any other shooter.
I don’t really get scared by horror games any more. Every once in a while something gets to me, but this dumb tactical shooter manages to make my heart beat through my chest for 20 minutes any time I get into the top 5. The sensation that goes along with getting a chicken dinner is probably the greatest rush any game’s ever elicited from me. It’s often a frustrating mess and I don’t like the controls all that much, but there’s just no game in the world that makes me feel the way Battlegrounds does.
I haven’t been this conflicted about a game in a long time. Persona 5 bungles opportunities for character development constantly, parades around its morals without sticking to them half the time, and I think it still might be one of my favorite games ever made.
Every inch of this game oozes a style and confidence that should be overbearing or insufferable, but it all feels earned. Yes, the menus look great, and that soundtrack is absolutely ridiculous, but in the shift in scale from Persona 4, this game never loses the homey atmosphere that made that game so easy to sink a hundred of hours into. Even if the script doesn’t always focus on the main cast as much as I would’ve liked, their interpersonal relationships and genuine care for each other makes the Phantom Thieves feel like a family to me.
I admit I probably took longer than most people to beat the game, clocking in somewhere around 150 hours over a few months, but a part of me wishes it would’ve lasted longer. When the credits were over and the intro theme started playing again, it felt like something had been sucked out of me.
Persona 5 has more flaws than simply not living up to high expectations, but that city and that group of idiot teenagers were a part of my routine for a long time, and I’ll miss the hell out of them.
When I said there was only one game that made my jaw drop more than Wolfenstein II, I was talking about Danganronpa V3. It’s the third and (hopefully) final game in one of my favorite series ever, and I can’t imagine a better note to go out on. Like every other Danganronpa game, it’s hard to say much about this unique, bizarre, wonderful thing that wouldn’t ruin the fun for someone who hasn’t played it.
I went in expecting a return to basics after 2 messed with the continuity so much they had to make an anime to actually wrap things up. I was okay with that, honestly. I was just glad to have another subversive murder mystery that felt like the best aspects of Persona and Phoenix Wright mashed together. That was exactly what they wanted me to expect.
V3 feels like the culmination of the entire series, a game that plays on what you’ve grown to expect from the dozens of murder mysteries you’ve solved in the first two games (and yes, you should probably play the first two if you want to get anything out of this one). It somehow manages to feel like a love letter to what made the series so great while also making fun of itself as well as its own fanbase. Series cliches are turned on their head and played straight with just enough variance that you can genuinely never tell what to expect next, and that makes this one of the most routinely surprising and fun mysteries I’ve ever experienced.
The cast is more of a slow burn than 2, which was almost entirely likeable from the jump. I didn’t really dislike anyone, but there were a few characters I felt completely indifferent about. Once the murders start happening and the cast starts to dwindle, though, I ended up rooting for the remaining survivors harder than anyone else in the series. Towards the end it starts to feel like a real group of people desperate to get out of a horrible situation alive, not just a group of wacky anime stereotypes.
As much as I’d still love just one more murder mystery, I really do hope that this is the finale. The points this game makes towards the end would feel a bit hollow if things kept going after this, but either way, V3 might be my new favorite in the series.
I’ve deleted and rewritten this passage about five times at this point. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to talk about how this game makes me feel, so I’m just going to talk about what it is to me. I went into it having read spoilers for NieR and Drakengard, so I thought I knew what to expect. It would be a neat game, but it was really all setup for some mind bending finale that would knock me on my ass. The thing none of those summaries were able to prepare me for, though, was the gentle thoughtfulness that his games had developed since 2003, and the amount of respect and care he gives to his characters.
The desolate and mostly abandoned setting of Automata allows the game to highlight the people that remain and give every one of them their due. I feel like I remember everybody I came across, just by virtue of them being there to keep me company. The robot village was my grounding, but every bit of life sprinkled throughout the city and surrounding wilderness feels worth protecting. It’s why I felt bad about attacking the robots from the jump, I never needed somebody to tell me they were just like us, it never mattered. Every lifeform you come across feels precious and unique, and they each have their individual ways of piecing together what exactly humans were all about.
Like 2015’s SOMA (and a million other sci-fi works), NieR asks intentionally unanswerable questions about humanity and the nature of consciousness through human-like androids. Unlike SOMA, I didn’t finish NieR with a newly developed identity crisis and a general sense of defeat about where we’re going as a species. Despite taking place thousands of years after humanity’s demise, the game does a whole lot of work to avoid feeling like a complete bummer. It feels like a celebration of human culture as much of a condemnation of it, a reflection on who we were and what we used to be like that’s only possible from an outside perspective.
I understand that the game’s not for everyone, no game is, but I really hope that anyone going into it fresh understands that there's more to this game than a flashy conclusion. If I had brushed past everything in NieR just to see what ending E was about, I would’ve hated it. There’s so much more here, like finding flowers for 6O, or the wandering couple, or the pit I get in my stomach every time I think about Pascal. The fact that all these things actually made a game worth slowing down for once to take in the surroundings should be a testament to how skillfully it’s all done.