Video Games Are Good: 2021
Okay, so like, let's take this a little seriously this time: 2021 has been excellent for games. It's been the best year since 2015. There are so many good games that I don't even think I have time for joke entries in this list like I did last year. I genuinely, seriously, believe that if you think this was a quote unquote "bad" year for games, then I think you should be playing more games; different games. Because holy crap despite having less hours in the day than I did a few years ago, I think I've played more video games this year than I have in recent memory... and like... they've actually been good? I don't believe it. What's going on here? There are so many games that could be on this list, that aren't on this list. Dota 2 is not on this list. Dota 2. I still played like a thousand hours of that game this year and yet I wanted to give another game the spotlight in its place.
Like with last year, this isn't going to be a list of games that were necessarily released this year, but more of a personal list. Time is a concept invented by humans and I fully think you should play games whenever you want. So like, yeah, a game from 2006 is going to be on this list. Have fun.
By the way, assume spoilers for any game I talk about.
Dyson Sphere Program
I have not talked about this game at all on the Video Games are Bad Platform. It is so good. It follows the form of many of the automation games that have been rising in popularity: mine stuff, smelt stuff, craft stuff - but you automate this into processes and assembly lines. Nothing we've not heard about before, so why am I talking about it?
Well first of all, the way it's done is some of the best balance I've seen in a game like this. The progression is so smooth. I feel just overwhelmed enough but at the same time, feel like I can get whatever process I need to create next in my head. But that's still not why Dyson Sphere Program is on this list. The reason why Dyson Sphere Program is on this list is because it takes place in whole ass galaxy. When you are not content with your current set up on terra firma, it's time to take to the skies, harnessing the resources of other planets and other systems. Now the logistical problem is how to transport these resources between planets. The next thing you know you're managing an entire ecosystem of starships transporting iron and titanium from planet to planet and at some point you take a step back and go "huh..."
Basically All the Ace Attorney Games
Ace Attorney was my comfort game this year and I played pretty much all of them. Not the Miles Edgeworth ones or the Professor Layton ones because they're like a billion dollars, but all of the others I have cleared in a single year. It's been interesting seeing how a series has progressed (and regressed) over the years and yet still hold that sense of charm and identity that I don't think any other game has. What's amazing is that it still works. Even this year with the Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, I never really get bored of these games, never get bored of solving mystery upon mystery, proclaiming objection upon objection. They could make a hundred of these games.
Other than that, I don't really have much to say about Ace Attorney. I've written like two posts on it already, which is amazing if you think about it because I hardly write anything. They should probably make some more?
Coming in for a last minute spot, I also played Aviary Attorney this year. It's Ace Attorney, but everyone is birds. I will give no further explanation.
Adios is a game where you play as a pig farmer who decides he's had enough and doesn't want to dispose of bodies for the mob anymore. His killer comes round for a day at the farm to try and convince him to change his mind. He doesn't and at the end of the day, the farmer's killer just straight up murders him. Murders the shit out of him.. that's it. That's the game.
What hit me about Adios didn't seem to be the things that people were talking about. It wasn't the way it told its story or how it played with dialogue options or that gut-wrenching final phone call with your son. And don't worry I'm not going to go "yeah... it was all of those things" because, while those things were very cool, it's not necessarily something new. There are many other games that play around with things like that. What many games don't do is be silently smug as hell.
There's no pretentiousness here, but at the same time, it's just so good with how it uses the things, the ingredients that make up a video game, on what you can tell is not the greatest budget. It uses all of this to tell a story that isn't necessarily the most impactful one. You're not fighting God or dragging the last hope of humanity across America. You're a dude who made a decision that he regrets, for the benefit of people who won't even see what he's sacrificed, and yet at the same time he's kind of a piece of shit but you still feel sorry for him and it's like, fuck man, when was the last time you played a video game like this that is just so focused on what it wants to do? It knows. It knows what it is, the story it wants to tell. It's 2 hours long, but probably some of the most memorable 2 hours of video game that I've played this year.
Persona 5 Strikers and Persona 3: Fes
Okay, so I finished up Persona 3 this year. That was pretty neat. Glad I stuck with that one. I can't believe the game tricked you into thinking it was going to be bad for the first half then casually pulls out some of the best writing and character development we've seen in video games and then, like, you Google when this video game was released and it tells you it came out in 2006 and it's like, aw, come on, really?
There was also Persona 5 Strikers. From a video game perspective, it was kind of bad. I don't really go for those kinds of games where you just press square over and over and over and luckily you can just turn the game down to easy and not care about it. No. What I cared about was how Persona 5 Strikers used Persona 5 in the best possible way. You go on a road trip.
Like, you have to understand. This is going to sound dweeby as hell. It is dweeby as hell. If you spend 200 hours with the dumbest sons and daughters on the planet and then they release a game where there is more? Where you go for one last ride? Yeah, that's easily a spot on this list. Wish Atlus would announce all the stuff they said they were going to announce though, we're running out of time.
Sable is an open world game where you go from point to point, collecting collectables, climbing towers, exploring dungeons and acquiring gear. And yet, despite this, it is nothing like any open world game that I've ever played. The best word I can come up with is introspective. It's a deeply personal game and is framed with that lens. There is no combat, no health points or stats. The only things kept are things that let you express yourself - your outfit and your bike.
I'm so glad this game exists. I'm so glad that someone has taken a look at Breath of the Wild and has finally. Got it. Holy crap, like, come on. Although there is a good game here, Sable's strengths are the rolling landscapes, the beautiful art direction and the knowledge that, even if you don't know who you are yet. Even if you're struggling. Eventually, you will find your place.
I also played Return of the Obra Dinn
Cool game. I didn't even like, buy it this year or anything it was just sat there in my library. Not sure why I went off it the first time round, but the second time had me for sure. It took a genre that many had left for dead, added its own spin on it and packaged it in a way that we're probably not going to see for a while. That chime is just so good man. I will go on about it to the ends of the earth. The chime when you solve three fates is addictive. The way Obra Dinn uses sound is something that we are flat out not going to see for like five years. Probably.
I'm hoping that I can forget that I played it in a few years and go and play it again. It's a masterpiece. The way it layers its puzzles and the deductions that you have to make is something that I've not seen in video games (although, to be fair, I haven't played Paradise Killer). Pacing up and down the ship, trying to track down that guy that's been mocking me. Stalking me in various dioramas. And then finally hitting it. Making that connection. Fantastic stuff.
Thanks for watching my video on it by the way.
Oh Jesus, I played Outer Wilds too
Oh for goodness Harry, really? No wonder you thought this year was good, you basically just played the greatest hits of the last 4 years. I was not a fan of Outer Wilds when it first released. And, in a way, I still think the criticisms I have of the game stand. Outer Wilds is definitely a game that I fondly remember rather than fondly play.
It was annoying. It was not a detective game, but an exploration game. A game where all the pieces are there and it's very easy to fit them together - you just have to actually, you know, get out there and find them. It was an intricate puzzle box. As cool as that puzzle box was, what wasn't cool was waiting however long for this statue to fall through a black hole or realising that you only have a few minutes left on the clock to navigate this underground labyrinth before you have to come back again.
And yet, it's on the list as one of the best games I've played this year. Absolutely ridiculous. A running theme with this post, Outer Wilds gives you a sense of connection to a fictional world that I've not seen in video games before. It also completely utterly destroyed me at an emotional, molecular level. Like, of course it does, a music piece at the end with all of your pals, signalling the end of everything as we know it. What's more beautiful than that? Spoilers by the way.
OneShot is not hiding either, even if I played it at the start of the year
OneShot thinks it can get away. Not only did it not come out in 2021, but I played it in like February. No matter. I'm an elephant on these kinds of things and I'm here to give OneShot the praise it deserves.
And honestly? I can't say much about it because I know none of you have played it and you really need to think about doing so if you're interested in video games at any level. The way it uses the game's relationship with the player and the characters is, and I'm sounding like a broken record here, unlike anything I have seen in video games. You really need to play it. You owe it to yourself. It takes a day. There are a few puzzles. The music is nice. I promise you you'll enjoy it. It's probably on sale in a few days.
Age of Empires 4
Dota 2 is suspiciously absent from this year's list and that's because I want to give its spot to Age of Empires 4. They managed to make one of the best competitive games of the last ten years. Simple as that. The possibilities are endless here, you have so many options on how to destroy your enemy's Town Centre. It's a game that you could play for years and even then we wouldn't have figured it out.
You have to understand. I suck at these games. So when I jump into my first online game and find my opponent playing a top tier civilisation, doing all of the things I see The Viper do (probably a little bit worse though) easily countering my simple tactics, it feels like I am constantly on the back foot. I throw archers upon archers at them, using spears when that doesn't work. Eventually. After what feels like hours, but was probably only about twenty minutes, I manage pull out the win! And like. Yeah, I jumped out of my chair when I did. At that very moment, Age of Empires 4 was the best video game.
I would love to say it's my game of the year, but what's amusing to me is how the game has changed over the past few months. The Balance Team has started to show up and tweak with the numbers and honestly? Friends? The game has been out for like two months. The balance changes for the next 4 months needed to be 2 lines long but it seems like they're intent on tweaking things for the sake of it. Oh well.
There's a lot of different angles you can take on Inscryption. It's been very interesting seeing people who haven't played too many roguelike deck builders absolutely fall in love with the first part of the game. And honestly, that's probably the most incredible thing about Inscryption. They managed to make one of the best deck building roguelikes of all time, second only to Slay the Spire... and yet that wasn't even the point.
It's such an excellent deconstruction of the card game genre. I know people aren't big fans of act 2 and 3 but I loved it. It's a brilliant exploration of a player's relationship with worldbuilding and mechanics and I think that's actually the reason why people didn't like the third act so much. I know this isn't much of an excuse and if it sucks, it sucks, but I think that was the point. It shows you just how good the first act was by way of reduction - including elements and mechanics that only fit whatever you're trying to go for.
I saw a lot of people out there say they wish they could play act 1 forever or even that they should have scrapped act 2 and 3 and focus entirely on act 1, adding more cards and more roguelite-y mechanics. I don't think this would have worked. The game pulls the plug at the exact moment you are familiar with the mechanics and it's entirely for the better. Much like the room it resides in, act 1 is shrouded in darkness and mystery. Shining a light on that through repetition and ascension modes would have ruined that a little bit.
The ending was a bit crap though, right? I wanted to see my guy go off the deep end into insanity. Not through means of the cursed Inscryption floppy disk mind, I wanted to see him wrangle with Adobe Premiere for 13 hours straight.
That's us done! Which one is my game of the year? If you ask me on Tuesdays it's probably Persona 5 Strikers, but then on a Saturday I'm feeling a solid Inscryption. Sable is pretty cool too. I just can't decide!
The honourable mentions for this year go to Mini Motorways, Wordle, Deathloop and Imposter Factory. See you next year!