Howdy folks! If you’re reading this, thank you! I am small, and it is nice when I stumble into someone’s view. Part of the reason I am small is because I am very poor, which means that I didn’t play a lot of games this year. Ah well. Ever forward. Ever forward.
Vampyr broke my heart. I wanted to like it so much (and still do!) but I just couldn’t get over how it necessitated feeding. That game would be nigh-impossible to complete without it. I think this is a smart choice on its face—it’s a really interesting way to get the player organically experiencing the arc of a new vampire, and making the more evil people too powerful to feed on at first is a good way to force players into compromising themselves. That being said, the only real advantage to chowing down was better combat abilities, and killing these low-level NPCs would mostly just result in lost story content. I’m not opposed to making choices that lock off content, but I would rather it opened up different avenues instead of blocking off the one door I have to move through with each character. Oh well.
9. The Quiet Man
Sorry, everyone, I just like shit that sucks. TQM is like when I trawl through Shudder looking for some barely-watchable garbage—it’s my comfort food. There are things about this that can (and should) turn you off, namely its virulent racism. There’s also a lot of wild shit in here that is actually good-as-hell, like a nonsense plot, silly animations, and (I think??? I’m not sure) surprise demons. Perhaps the best way to experience this is in youtube form—quick, dirty, to the point, and you can bounce when it loses you. The Quiet Man: my garbage boy.
8. Shadow of the Colossus Remaster
I know we all got mad about how this game looks different from the original (which, hey, yeah, fine) but I still liked this remaster! I’m fortunate to have played both the original and the HD PS3 version, so I could just sorta walk around and let nostalgia wash over me, for once. What an interesting medium this is—the remaster phenomenon (and the reactions to it) feel very specific to games, in a way. I know there’s discussion in film about restorations and such, but I feel like that’s meaningfully different from ‘we made the entire game again but in higher fidelity.’ Or maybe it’s not! I’m not an authority! I think it’ll be interesting to see how the conversation about these remasters changes, and is looked back on. What a thing.
7. Donut County
OST of the year right here—I just love the shit out of cool acoustic sounds getting mixed to blend with more electronic production. Also: the end of level music absolutely slaps. This game’s real cute! Look at all the little friends falling down a hole in your phone (it’s not vore, but it is…satisfying). That being said, I’m savvy (though not well-versed in, admittedly) to an appropriative element, specifically in the way it mines from Hopi beliefs, as well as the use of animals in indigenous storytelling. Hire consultants on your games, please, so you can A) pay marginalized people, and B) make a cute thing that remains cute under scrutiny.
6. Dark Souls Remastered
The best case for a Demon’s Souls remaster FROM could ever provide. Everything is just as you remember it (except for that one additional bonfire at the tomb blacksmith, thank-fucking-god), except it runs like a dream. *Slaps hood* this baby can hold so many stable framerates in it.
Please FROM. Please Sony. Give us Demon’s Souls remastered. I beg of you.
5. Dead Cells
What a pleasant surprise! I know the term ‘roguelike’ is a little fraught with nuances I’m not quite savvy to, but I really enjoyed the loop of this game, which does seem to derive itself from roguelikes. I had fun, to a point! Sadly, I think the loop of incremental improvement crumbles a little bit after you open up the next layer of persistent game modifiers. I’m comfortable playing through the same randomized levels over and over, but as soon as I needed to fill a bar up to 1,000 (for a frame of reference: a really REALLY good run takes about 30 minutes and will net you around 50 eponymous dead cells), I checked out. The micro is great—moving around and killing things in this games feels so good—but the Dead Cells falters on the macro. Still, I have no regrets. Dead Cells was a joy while it lasted.
4. Mark of the Ninja Remastered
Fuck ME. I’d forgot how goddamn good this game was. It’s legitimately incredible to play something that hasn’t aged in the slightest; it’s like watching a magic trick. One of the best stealth games ever made, no question. Visualizing sound remains slick as hell, both stylistically and mechanically. I know there’s discussion to be had about the nature of remasters, but at the very least we got to re-experience this gem. Every little encounter is so finely-tuned, plus the damn thing is gorgeous to look at. What a gem.
3. Hitman 2
Hitman 2 is a great build on the formula IO Interactive nailed with Hitman 1. The levels are bigger (but not too much bigger), the stealth mechanics have been refined, and I think it generally does a better job of communicating to players what Hitman is really all about. That being said, I think there’s some cracks in the armor. There’s no way that someone at IO didn’t raise their hand and go “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have our white protag kill a shaman and wear his clothes,” or “yikes please let’s not have Agent 47 literally wear the hair of the Indian holy man.” And yet, here it is, in the game. Hitman is always riding the line of punching up v. down, so it’s disappointing to come away seeing so much down-punching. The highs are incredibly high—slaughtering sociopathic uber-rich secret-society doomsday preppers on an island castle is incredible. Killing some Colombian workers in a “”super cocaine””” field? Less so.
I fell in love with how neat Celeste is. Pretty much everything you need to know about playing it is taught in this year’s best tutorial sequence—one that sets the stage for the game’s theming to boot. It’s incredibly judicious in its mechanics and how it builds them. Celeste should be considered up there with the 2D Marios and Raymans of our time. Cannot praise this game highly enough.
Under the Cut
Here’s all the other games that I spent a meaningful amount of time with this year that didn’t make the list, either because they were bad, or technically released in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, I’m one of the people who hopped on the Hollow Knight train this year. Don’t have much to say about it that hasn’t already been said—nails its tone, the story is heartbreaking and obtuse in that charming FROM-ish way, and it’s a fuckin blast to play. Was annoyed by how the most recent DLC gave into the challenge obsession that rotted the Dark Souls trilogy, but not much I can do about that. Base game is fabulous, I loved every minute I spent with it.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
I think I can soundly say that SotTR is the worst game I played all year, which is a bummer, because I don’t think anything else (except maybe Heat Signature) has captured being a sneak-murderer quite like it. I felt like a true killer, perched in a tree, ready to shove my knife into some PMC goon and string him up like a Christmas goose. Too bad it can’t even get the baby shit right when it comes to storytelling. There’s an entire character arc that happens off-screen! Among many other bizarre storytelling decisions! Also goes without saying—it is as racist as it is nonsensical, though I suppose those things go hand in hand. It truly astounds me that they end their supposedly anti-colonial mea culpa showing Lara in a room full of the shit she’s pilfered from the vulnerable over the years. Also, I think canonically Lara literally became the goddess of the people her family put at risk in the first place??? This game is every time your racist family member has said “I don’t see color—black, white, brown, or PURPLE.”
What are we doing here, gang.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Pros: You can fuck literally everyone. You wanna go on a sex tour of ancient Greece? Oh, baby, have I got the game for you. Also: big fan of the bird. Good-ass bird.
Cons: you have to play an Assassin’s Creed game.
Final verdict: True neutral.
CoD: Blops IIII
I have to say, I just typed out the four individual “I”’s for the first time and it felt pretty dang neat. I see why they did that. The rest of this game is literally exactly what you think it is. Not a penny out of place. Everyone’s favorite war shooter returns, but swapping out the story for battle royale. Honestly, this seems like it’s for the best. It’s been a minute since I played Call of Duty and I had not realized how deep of a machismo parody it’s become. I don’t think I need it telling me another story about how war is bad, but also super cool.
Gravity Rush 2
Gravity Rush 2 came out in 2017, and I don’t care. It was six dollars like two weeks ago, and it’s one of the best gaming purchases I made all year. I literally could not put it down. What a viciously clever mechanic, falling through the sky. I’ve never felt like more of a superhero in a video game, it is wild. Frankly, I’m also astounded by how directly it confronted class struggle, specifically intra-class violence. Eat the rich before they make us eat each other.
Smash Bros Ultimate
Aha! Surprise! this one gets the inclusion down here because I know I’m going to have a blast, but have not had the opportunity to play it yet. Sorry gang, I wanna put this shit up 2-nite. If you find my ethics compromised, feel free to get mad about a fairly informal blog post on wordpress—it’s your evening.
A truly stellar use of Twine. The way words glitched onscreen, the computer-program framework… Such a precisely executed aesthetic, one that aligned perfectly with both the themes of the game and its framing device. Wow. The sheer vision of WIS’ collaborators is extraordinary. This is my superlative GOTY. I also found the story to be particularly affecting, not to mention tonally versatile. I’d be surprised if two different people playing WIS came away with the same impression. There’s hope, darkness, love, loss—all wrapped snug in a brief 20 minutes. A master-class in game design. Play it.