I’m still working on my other lists, but for now, it was easy to think of my ten favourite games from the last year – I’ve had much less time to play them in general! Putting them in order was very difficult, but I think I’ve got them right here.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst
I’ve been waiting for this followup for years, and I’m miserable that I haven’t had more time to continue playing it – I want to complete it so badly – but what I’ve played so far is excellent. They’ve made the running more natural and paced the upgrades really well to let you learn new moves as you play through the story, which you can do basically whenever because you can free-run through the city, which on its own is a joy.
Their attempt at storytelling was awful, but GAMEPLAY. My god. The experience lends itself so well to good practice and perfecting technique, and the challenge arenas the game offers at the end lend themselves really well to that. The mid-game twist where they introduce a truly monstrous new mechanic is paced so perfectly and completely changes how you play. It’s just so damn fun.
Star Fox Zero
Star Fox 64 is one of my favourite games ever. This remake sure treads that same ground again with confidence, but does it with a crazy new control scheme. Most people seem to hate it, but I adore it, and it makes playing that game more fun than ever. I always want to go back for more, and dogfights are even more exciting and intense to play, and made more cinematic for people watching. Fantastic game.
Very good characters built, with almost no actual modelling or animating work needed. The introduction to this game is an Up-style heartbreaker and throws you in very quickly. I think the game allows for a lot of exploration but doesn’t especially encourage it that often – we found ourselves mainlining & running through areas. Because of that we reached the end sooner than people thought we would. That said it’s still the most interesting story/characters I saw in a game this year.
Dark Souls III
Getting the team back on a new Dark Souls was really great. I find it and Bloodborne basically the same so I was surprised to find people that loved one or the other a great deal more, mainly on the fantasy vs gothic theming of each. Dark Souls III shows how much they’ve learned over the years, and they’ve compiled the game’s most interesting mechanics and added several more very interesting new ones, and thrown out several bad ones. I always have a great time playing it and never really can explain why I like it so much, even to this day.
I haven’t played Pokémon since Emerald. Picking up Sun, developed and put out 12 years later, is a considerable jump in quality and I was blown away by how finely tuned they’ve made the series over time. They’ve cut out all the time-wasting annoying mechanics and the whole thing feels really streamlined. I also appreciate the difficulty curve (excessively easy at the outset and ramps up real good toward the end) which caters to me as well as new players. Also my team is mostly made up of gen 1 Pokémon, so I can be a curmudgeon even in the game world (with the exception of my opera-singing clownseal).
At first blush I expected to spend more time on this game, so instead of spending time describing how I love it, as many others have (and there are so many reasons to), I’ll talk about what I don’t like: its lack of community. Just saying that sounds bizarre as there are plenty of spaces and competitive areas where you can find Overwatch community, but in-game, you’re stark out of luck. I compare this experience to TF2 (unsurprisingly) which offered you server lists, built-in communities, and a much more welcoming experience. You could return to the same group of people to practice and play, and once you found groups that matched your style, it was just more fun. Most people seem to play Overwatch by making a team of their IRL friends and fighting strangers and that’s really not my cup of tea. I found TF2 a cool way to connect with new people and vanilla Overwatch is kind of terrible at that. That said it’s still very, very good and I’m sure I’ll reinstall it again someday soon. (If you’re curious, my main is Winston, who is basically my nerdy peanut-butter devouring spirit animal.)
Doom was very much in the spirit of the old games – still very updated and unique, but super fast-paced and only dressed with enough theme to be able to get you through the door. Gameplay first, everything else is secondary. And it feels real good. A lot of this is thanks to the excellent sound design – I talk a lot about sound in games but this one is just so fantastic – attacking enemies sounds snappy and visceral, with the badass driving hard-rock soundtrack filtering out at just the right moments to give you a guitar-riff punch as you rip that demon’s heart out and feed it to him. It feels fist-pumpingly good to play.
While it’s undoubtedly a retread of Limbo, it’s just the product of years of tightening up and playtesting and the results are really amazing. If you haven’t played it, set aside an evening or a weekend afternoon and play it, bonus points for going in knowing nothing because unwinding the story is delightful. The atmosphere is super thick and you feel it the whole time somewhere in your gut, with that constant “there’s danger everywhere” dread that Limbo did, but much more specific to the situation.
Noémi gave me a weird look when I said this was my number one choice. “But you only put 20 hours into it!” I mean, sure. While diehards have put in many, many more than I did, glancing at the rest of this list, I didn’t actually have a ton of time for video games this year and I put 4-6 into most of the above, and the ones I put more into just don’t compare with how damn tight this game was. Just about every corner shone with polish and I was delighted waking up every day to plan my approach.
I’ve never played harvest moon but now I feel like I’d really enjoy it. I do enjoy open ended minecraft-style games, and this one had another level of planning that I found really satisfying, in addition to letting me organize the space and save for/create big buildings.
I ended up giving up on it in winter for there being less for me to do, but a big part of that was due to lack of foresight – next time I pick this up and try again, I’ll have a better plan. And I’m going to probably pick this up several more times over the course of my life and it’ll be a total joy every time, something I can’t necessarily say about almost anything else on this list.
Well done Stardew. Hang on, I gotta go plant some more pumpkins.