I might have written before that I don’t think much of the idea of a “Game of the Year” or really an “[Anything] of the Year”. Being a native of a country that insists on awarding citizens such titles, you’d think I might feel different but I don’t. Realistically, nobody is going to play every game released in a single year and even if they somehow managed it, their personal taste will have a significant effect on their judegement. The same is true of film awards where the average person probably couldn’t name three movies that won best picture in the last ten years because its decided by people who have tastes completely at odds with the average movie-goer.
As I have substantially reduced the amount of gaming I do, I am also limited with what I had access to. So a number of “critically” acclaimed games such as Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part II were unavailable to me. The latter wasn’t a problem as I did not think well of the first game. The former, I imagine I would have enjoyed but then I am absolutely sick of Ubisoft style, open-world-action-narrative-collectable genre mashes, so maybe not. Refreshingly, the new games I played this year all stuck to one genre and I can say that all of them did the chosen genre proud.
So rather than select a game I liked best, I’m just going to write some brief commentary on each game I played this year. They are covered in the order I played them.
Streets of Rage 4
This was one I was really looking forward to and in may ways it did not disappoint. There was a great mix of the new and familiar and the fighting mechanics were intuitive. The only real problems I had with the game were with the story and some more annoying than challenging enemy types. The original games neither had great stories or were without their share of cheap enemy types but these were two areas that could have been improved. The biggest stand-out overall was the soundtrack which captured both the energy and style of the originals.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
This is a sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest in a genre now widely called a “Metroidvania” after the Metroid series and the structure of Castlevania games popularised by Symphony of the Night. Will of the Wisps does everything a sequel should do. It retains what made the first good and adds some new elements and mechanics. On the whole, I enjoyed it but I have better memories of the original. The problem I think is that there have been so many games in the genre released over the last decade that it’s starting to become stale. As with the original, it has an almost hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and a vivid art style to match.
This was probably the biggest surprise of last year. I was very disappointed with GEARS 5 which took the series in a direction that is now all too common in any franchise that men dare to enjoy. Tactics shares some narrative connections with GEARS 5 but it is very much its own game. As the title implies, this is a turn-based tactical game set in the Gears of War universe and they work very well together. They work so well in fact that I’m surprised it wasn’t done before. The game has excellent visuals, a lengthy campaign and addictive gameplay. It is only held back by limitations with customisation options and combat class variety. There are also many repetitive (and mandatory) side-missions that artificially lengthen the game. While it isn’t as deep and feature rich as the more recent XCOM games, it is still a great game on its own and potentially a strong start to a new series.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
If play-time were a factor than this would be my overall game of the year. I’ve been playing Animal Crossing games since the GameCube but I have quickly gotten bored with the sequels after Wild World on DS. New Horizons is still very familiar but has enough new content to be appealing. The much expanded ability to craft, landscape and beautify the island town being the main draw. It was also fun seeing the rest of my family get involved on the same island. There have been fairly regular updates to the game and there is still a lot to discover but as with all games in the series, there is a point where it becomes a grind.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
A lot of people (myself included), were hoping to see the sequel to Breath of the Wild this year. That didn’t happen but this was a great consolation. Although wrongly advertised as a prequel, this is in reality an alternative “what if?” take on the events a century before Breath of the Wild. Much like the first Hyrule Warriors, this one makes the most of the source material and has a lot of fun with it in the process. What is more impressive is that just that one game provided so much for the developers to use. This has a solid and fun story campaign and can be extended a lot by the legion of side-missions that progressively appear on the map. I haven’t gone back to it for a while but I know there is still a lot to do.
Panzer Dragoon Remake
This obviously isn’t a new game but a full remake to the 1995 Sega Saturn game. I had never previously seen the original through to the end so this was the first time I’d played through the whole thing. The game is very short but a lot of fun while it lasts. I understand the game didn’t play very well on release but I didn’t have any issues when I played it late last year. It isn’t as good as its RPG sequel Panzer Dragoon Saga or the excellent Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox, but it is still a very good game. It is a shame how unique this was when originally released is harder to appreciate for modern audiences. As with Streets of Rage 4, this is a genre that has become uncommon so it is always good to see something new.
This was the last new game I played last year and I didn’t finish until early into the new year. I almost stopped playing completely a couple of times too. Overall it was a good game but I didn’t appreciate a lot of the changes made from 2016’s DOOM. The most irritating change is the reduction in the amount of ammo and (what seemed to me), to be much longer levels. The raw madness the of the first game was what made it fun and while Eternal is more refined, it lost something in the process. I can see that this design would appeal a lot more to some players but it just wasn’t for me.