End of Year Awards: Part 2 (Game of the Year List)

Me again. First things first, let me say a big Happy New Year to all of you. I hope 2019 brings you everything you want and more…..

Back to 2018, on a personal level, I had quite the year; becoming a father for the first time, witnessing my team finally win their first Stanley Cup. It’s truly been the most amazing, emotionally draining, stressful, joy filled year of my entire life…here’s hoping 2019 is a little more….predictable?

Anyway, here’s my favourite games of 2018. I’ve chosen not to rank the list because, I love all of these games. If they’ve made this list, I think you should play them. Also why 5? Well, I’m a big into punishing myself for no reason whatsoever. I jest of course. No, 5 games made the list because it forces me to really think through my choices. And that I did. If you’d have told me in June that God of War would miss this list, I wouldn’t believe you.

Oh one more thing. Don’t forget to go look at Part I of this article, where I hand out some awards.


Red Dead Redemption II – PS4

As I wrote in my previous article, RDR2 is a game that frustrated me constantly. It pushed me to the point of giving up multiple times, especially early on. Heck, I was happy to sell the game at a loss; so disappointed and put out by the game that just stopping was a viable and all-to real possibility. Yet I persevered. I kept moving forward; Arthur’s story pushing me on through the tedium of those first ten hours.

Eventually, after far longer than I think it should take, I started to see the gold in RDR2. I began to appreciate certain aspects of Rockstar’s design ethos. Suddenly the under-the-water feel of Arthur’s movement blended into the background, the often anger-inducing horse controls disappeared, the slow animations weren’t as obviously time wasting. I began to live in this world, to accept it for what it was; wort’s and all.

Red Dead Redemption 2 might be one of the finest games ever made. However it is that way because the development team had a vision, and they stuck to it in ways that we just don’t see in this area of entertainment. As such, you’re always going to lose people along the way. I was nearly one of those people, but somehow, someway the game drew me back in.

I’ll likely never play this game again, it’s too long, to frustrating. That being said however, I’ll remember the moments, the awe-inspiring visuals, the editing and production values (I know – BARF – Treat your workers better ffs). I’ll remember the plot, the characters and their story. I’ll remember my horse. I’ll remember Arthur, his character arch from rough and tumble outlaw to caring, compassionate cowboy with a heart of gold and too little time. I’ll remember Red Dead Redemption 2 for an awful long time. And that’s why its on this list.


Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker – Switch

I owned a WiiU. I never got to Captain Toad. However with the games release on the Switch, I knew I had to take a look. And I’m delighted I did.

Captain Toad is a small game. You navigate these tiny little worlds, solely focused on collecting stars and coins. It’s a puzzle game; an absolutely adorable one. Turns out that’s actually, kinda my thing.

That’s really all there is to say about Captain Toad. It’s an adorable, charming puzzle game that more of you should play.


Florence – Mobile

Florence is a mobile game. It’s a mobile game in which you swipe, scratch and tap your way through a young woman’s story of a love, heartbreak and moving on.

From the games opening your hit with a wave of some of the most visually interesting art design I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’m out of line when I say this; Florence looks like a Studio Ghibli film. It’s truly stunning; simple, but insanely effective. If RDR2 is technically stunning, Florence takes home the award for best use of hand-drawn animation. It’s flawless.

The game isn’t entirely its visuals however. No sir. It’s soundtrack is an absolute delight. So good in fact that I’m considering listening to it away from the game; I never do that, ever.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the games core; it’s love story. It’s not flashy, it’s not overly sentimental, it’s just sort of real, you know? The way the game uses its interface as a metaphor for those moments in a relationship where it’s all-going-wrong are so well handled I was considering it for Moment of the Year in my previous post.

I can’t emphasis this enough. Florence is a beautiful game. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears, but more importantly it’s arguable one of the more real takes on what a relationship in 2018 (19..) feels like. The good and the bad, the joy and the heartbreak. The excitement and the dejection. It does all of this without a word of dialogue and barely any legible text.

Also it nearly had me in tears. Go play Florence. Please.


Pokemon Lets Go – Switch

If you’d have told me at the beginning of the year that a Switch Pokemon game aimed at the Pokemon Go fans would be on my top 5 of the year list, I’d have laughed out loud. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Pokemon, but everything about this game seemed to go against what I thought I wanted from a Pokemon game.

I was wrong. Let’s Go is not only my favourite Pokemon game, it’s brought the series back to me in a big way. Is it perfect? no, but it does something that no other Pokemon game has done since I first picked up Pokemon Blue as an 8 year old; it made playing Pokemon fun again.

Let’s Go moves those overly tiresome mechanics that actively pushed me away from previous games and replaces them with a streamlined take on what makes Pokemon games so much fun for so many. I want to collect Pokemon, I want to battle them and I want to do it all without having to focus in on micro-managing my roster.

Pokemon Lets Go has given me renewed optimism for what this franchise has going forward. There’s a new game out in 2019. Here’s hoping its more Lets Go than X and Y.



Marvel’s Spider-man – PS4

Here’s the thing about Marvel’s Spider-man. It’s a popcorn game. What I mean when I say that is this. It doesn’t ask too much of you, it doesn’t task you, or challenge you in any great way, it just wants to help you have fun. And I had a bucket load of fun in Spider-man.

Swinging around New York never gets old. It’s been said before, but if you can nail that mechanic (and they did), you’re halfway there already. Throw in some Arkham-inspired combat, some lush visuals and a central character who we actually give a crap about, and you’ve got yourself a pretty damn good video game.

If Red Dead Redemption II was about asking the player to make sacrifices in order to find the enjoyment; Spider-man is the antithesis of that. It drops you in this world full of fun little offshoots, and let’s you go beat them up. It doesn’t ask too much, it just wants you; the player to have a fun time. And I guess that’s kind of true to Spider-man himself no?

Be awkward, save the day; Spider-man.


Honourable Mentions: Astrobot: Rescue Mission – The Gardens Between – Quarantine Circular – God of War

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End of Year Awards: Part I (Awards)

Remember me? Yeah I’m still here; Still playing games, still thinking about them and still occasional even writing about them. Kind of amazing really given that 2018 was also the year I became a parent for the first time. My daughter is doing great by the way. She’s a delight. A time consuming, endlessly confusing one, but a delight none the less.

Oh yeah, she’s recently started to wave bye-bye; it’s adorbs.

Anyway you’re not here for that. You want video games, and that’s exactly what I’m wanting to give you. Let’s cut the to chase; I’m writing two posts. Part I will focus on some arbitrary awards (this post is part I), and part II will by my official game of the year list. For Part I, I’ll be using some of my favourite award categories from previous Giantbomb GOTY Deliberations. Why? because they’re fun (and I’m a parent now, and you’ll accept my decision?)

Lets go.


2018s Old Game of the Year (An Old Game that I loved in 2018)

Rocket League

2018 saw me aerial back-flip into Rocket League in a big way. The Switch version of the game isn’t the prettiest version, it’s not the most popular version and it likely isn’t the best version, but it is the version I spent more time with than any other video game in 2018.

With it’s short burst of gameplay and ability to play without having to hog the TV (which is invaluable in a household where both new-parents are actively looking to chill out by playing games on the same TV), Rocket League was, and is still an amazing game, and its one I’m pleased to say is still very much a part of my gaming life even 4 years after it invited itself into it.

Honourable Mentions: Captain Toad, Mark of the Ninja

Biggest Surprise

Bad North

Bad North is a delightfully cute tactics game in which you control a very small number of soldiers in their defense of an island against the invading hordes. It’s not all that deep, but what it loses in that department it more than makes up in charm, character and replay-ability.

If you enjoy games like Into the Breach and Advanced Wars, give Bad North a look. It’s certainly not as tactically tasking, but it might just be the perfect counterbalance. Great music too.

Honourable Mentions: Astrobot, The Gardens Between

Game I Should Play More

Into the Breach

Speaking of tactically tasking video games. Into the Breach will be found on many a game critics top-10 lists this year, and its easy to see why. It’s demanding but fair take on the genre is perfect for players who want less Xcom and more Advanced Wars, and the run-type nature allows players to experiment with different play styles and …..tactics??.

Whenever the game comes up I’m hit by a sudden urge to grab my Switch and load it up once more, and in 2019 I will make a point of doing just that at some point, because much like FTL before it, Into the Breach deserves all the love its getting.

Honourable Mentions: Bad North

Game I Beat My Head Against Because Reasons Award

Guacamalee 2

Oh boy. I don’t think I’ve ever gone from loving a franchise to being done with it in quite as quick a time as I did with Guacamalee 2. It’s not that the game is bad, far from it. There’s just too much of it. Too much frustration, too many endless dungeons of death, too many poorly placed checkpoints and too many death rooms.

I knew what I was getting into with Guacamalee 2. I knew it’d be a demanding experience, but where the previous entry was a tight little game with brutally difficult bosses, this entry felt cheap and a little unfair; asking the player to control the game in ways the engine just isn’t capable.

It’s a real shame because the original Guacamalee was one of my favourite games from its year of release. Guacamalee 2 just didn’t hit me in the right spot. I’m sure many will love it, but for me I fear the series has gone in a direction I don’t wish to follow.

Honourable Mentions: Red Dead Redemption II

Best Moment or Sequence

Red Dead II – The Ending of Chapter 3

Red Dead Redemption II has an awful lot of problems. However offering a plate full of absolute carnage, packaging it up into a beautiful, heart-pumping hour of drama and then unleashing it directly into your eyes and ears, isn’t one of them though. My best gaming moment from 2018 is just that. Surprising, thrilling, tense, beautiful; the ending of Red Dead Redemption chapter 3 literally has it all.

I don’t want to name anything specific, because in my opinion you need to play it to truly understand the events; the excitement of whats happening on screen, but I’ll say this: Everything changes post Rhoades.

I can talk about how the game, how the developers turned this hour of gameplay into something absolutely mind-blowing. The gameplay is on point, the score is thumping, the dialogue tight; the voice acting and direction just out of this world.

It was one of the rare moments in gaming where I just stopped the game and told my partner to look at the screen. She had no context for what was happening, but I just had to show somebody. So much happens in such a short space of time, it was more akin to the ending of a series of television; the briiiing, briiing, brriiing, BOOM! of Breaking Bad season 4 finale, the finale of Game of Thrones season 6. Perfectly produced, edited and delivered. Video Games can match the best of TV and Film; it’s rare but in this case, Rockstar did just that.

Honourable Mentions: Going Under – Astrobot, Getting the SMS – Bury Me, My Love

Most Disappointing Game

Red Dead Redemption II

Hear me out….

I really, really enjoyed Red Dead Redemption II. It’s not a bad game at all, in fact don’t be surprised to see it on my final GOTY list. It’s a masterpiece in Video Game form.

And that right there is the issue with RDII. In order to be a masterpiece of the medium it has to make some pretty large decisions, and unfortunately for me, I found some of those large decisions to be insanely frustrating.

Be it the awful controls, the poor (2001 era) shooting, the is-this-really-the-best-you-could-do-UI, the aggressively overlong story or the janky way the horses controlled, I found the game frustrated me as often, if not more than it delighted me. To the point that at one point, for a good hour I’d listed my copy of the game on Facebook Marketplace, so done was I with it that I was willing to sell it at a loss mere days after it had been released. Ultimately I did decide to persevere; more through sheer determination to finish this ‘gaming watermark’ than anything else. I did ultimately end up ‘enjoying’ the experience, but heck….

Red Dead Redemption II is a constantly impressive game, but its far from constantly enjoyable. And that’s kind of how I feel about it as an entertainment product. Beautiful, impressive…just not that much actual fun to play for large sections of its runtime. Which is why it takes home my award from my disappointing game of 2018.

Honourable Mentions: A Way Out


And there we have it. My 2018 awards. Keep an eye out in the coming days for my overall 2018 GOTY list. I’ve still got one or two games I’d like to take a look at before going final with it, but I can’t imagine it’ll be far off.

An update of sorts

I’ll try to keep this brief.

As many of you knew, me and my partner were expecting our first child in march. What with the preparations taking entirely over my life, I found it difficult to play games, let alone write about them. As such the blog took a bit of a break.

It’s May now. Our beautiful little girl was born on the 18th of March and she’s doing pretty well. As any new parent will tell you, it’s been hard. We’ve cried, laughed (in that order) and wondered just what exactly we were thinking when we set out on this road, but on the whole its going great. Mila-Grace is a beautiful blessing that is no doubt going to change our lives forever, and we couldn’t be more great full.

As you can imagine, playing games has been a challenge. I’ve not so much as looked at my PC in over a month. The Switch however has been invaluable to me, especially during those sleepless nights and cluster feeding sessions where I’m just sat around hopelessly watching my amazing partner do her thing.

So that’s my update. Forgive the quality of my blog, I’m rushing. That’s what we do now. Rush. Constantly.

I hope to eventually get back to writing a little more often, but that’s working on the assumption that my daughter lets me have even a moment to myself at some point; so don’t count on it.

If you do want to contact me, you can find me moaning about hockey, dirty nappies and maybe even the occasional nugget of video game news on my twitter.

Once again. Thanks for reading. I’ll see you on the other side. Maybe.

My Favourite Games of 2017: Day Five

It’s that time again. When we as a collective come together to write, read and argue about our favourite games of the year. Not wanting to break from tradition, I proudly present to you, my favourite games of 2017.

Now instead of boring you with a traditional list, I thought I’d ‘spice’ it up a little by writing a post about each game. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. I’m a busy man and let’s be honest, you guys have read enough about PUBG and why Hellblade is amaze-balls on this blog already.

 

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

 PC – PUBG Corp

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I think I’ve finally found my forever game. Yes, I’ve said this before with games like Rocket League, Destiny and Overwatch, but this time I think it’s going to stick. Because even after nearly 250 hours of this ugly, buggy and at times downright infuriating mess of a video game……I can’t stop playing.

PUBG isn’t the prettiest game. It’s far from the most feature complete and it certainly won’t win any awards for polish. However its core concept is so perfect in its execution that it doesn’t matter. It’s proof that above all else, gameplay wins through.

The idea is simple: 100 people jump out of a plane armed with nothing but pants. The last person alive wins. It’s so simple that I can’t believe it’s taken as long has it has done to truly take off outside of the occasional in-game mod.

As simple as it is, don’t be fooled for thinking it’s short on depth. Far from it. Solo play delivers a genuinely nerve-wracking experience that is unmatched in the competitive online space; it’s a horror game masquerading as a shooter, and whilst it’s not the first to try this type of thing, it’s certainly the most effective.

Duo’s and Squads takes the game in a much different direction. Less tension inducing horror and more tactical squad combat. It’s a subtle difference but one that allows the game to offer two distinct types of play experiences without changing the games basic concept.

PUBG is going to change what online shooters are for the next decade. In much the same way that Modern Warfare changed how we play the FPS, Battlegrounds will surely have a similar effect on the games we’re playing over the next 8-10 years. And that’s a testament to just how utterly successful this game is at what it tries to do.

There will undoubtedly come ‘PUBG clones’. Many of them will look, run and feel better than Battlegrounds does, and I cannot wait for them. Because what PUBG gets right, it gets so right that I may never need to play another shooter again.

And so I’m pleased to say that not only is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds my new ‘forever’ game, it’s also my favourite game of the year.

Surprise.

 

 

 

My Favourite Games of 2017: Day Four

It’s that time again. When we as a collective come together to write, read and argue about our favourite games of the year. Not wanting to break from tradition, I proudly present to you, my favourite games of 2017.

Now instead of boring you with a traditional list, I thought I’d ‘spice’ it up a little by writing a post about each game. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. I’m a busy man and let’s be honest, you guys have read enough about PUBG and why Hellblade is amaze-balls on this blog already.

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

 PC/PS4 – Ninja Theory

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Here’s the thing about Hellblade. For all its technical achievements, incredible moments and it’s emotional weight, the moment to moment gameplay isn’t all that rewarding.

The combat for example, is a ho-hum affair. It’s not overly difficult, and at times it feels like it was added to give the player something to do whilst traversing the world; something to keep you interested whilst you move onto the next easy to solve puzzle or set piece. And you know what? When the rest of your video game is as good as Hellblade is, that’s okay.

As much as I enjoyed Hellblade, it isn’t a game I hear too many people talking about. In a year dominated by 100 person shooters and Robots with feelings, it fell through the cracks. And whilst it’s recently done well at the Video Game Awards, I think more people should give this game a look.

Why? Because in 2017 video games are slowly marching into a world where shorter, more digestible narratives are becoming a thing of the past. Hellblade is one of those games and it deserves your undivided attention. Not only for what it tries to do but also for what it actually achieves.

Hellblade isn’t perfect, and many would take issue with how it handles its core themes and conflicts, but in terms of putting you inside the head of a character dealing with the things she’s dealing with, no game has ever done it better. Traumatizing and deeply disturbing, Hellblade is a game that doesn’t flinch from its darkness. It doesn’t ask its player to watch as Senua’s world falls apart, it pulls them into her world and helps her re-build it.

Hellblade isn’t my favourite game of 2017, but it may well be the one that sticks with me the longest.

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My Favourite Games of 2017: Day Three

It’s that time again. When we as a collective come together to write, read and argue about our favourite games of the year. Not wanting to break from tradition, I proudly present to you, my favourite games of 2017.

Now instead of boring you with a traditional list, I thought I’d ‘spice’ it up a little by writing a post about each game. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. I’m a busy man and let’s be honest, you guys have read enough about PUBG and why Hellblade is amaze-balls on this blog already.

Super Mario Odyssey

 Switch – Nintendo

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I’ve grown up playing Mario games. From the Super Nintendo through to the Switch, Mario has been a constant bringer of joy and an unwavering sign of quality. And Odyssey may well be the franchise as its very best.

Confident in its approach, it’s willing to try new things whilst offering fans of the franchise and of the larger platforming genre as a whole a huge playground in which to explore and ultimately, have a boat load of fun in.

It’s not trying to tell you an incredibly story of overcoming the odds. It’s not looking to let you experience life as someone else and it’s not asking you to be the best in a field of millions. Instead it wants you to sit back, relax and have a truly wonderful time. And if that’s what you’re after, I don’t think a game released in the last 5 years does it quite as well as this one.

Truth be told, I’m struggling to put to paper what I think of this game. It’s a Mario game; perfected. And as I’ve said in all of these posts so far, if you like video games, you owe it to yourself to play this. I’d even make the argument that it’s worth owning a Switch for.

 

 

 

My Favourite Games of 2017: Day Two

It’s that time again. When we as a collective come together to write, read and argue about our favourite games of the year. Not wanting to break from tradition, I proudly present to you, my favourite games of 2017.

Now instead of boring you with a traditional list, I thought I’d ‘spice’ it up a little by writing a post about each game. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. I’m a busy man and let’s be honest, you guys have read enough about PUBG and why Hellblade is amaze-balls on this blog already.

What Remains of Edith Finch

PC/PS4/XBOX One – Giant Sparrow

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Rare are the games that can elicit an emotional response from me. Rarer still are the games that manage to pull two or three different ones out of me at any one given time. What Remains of Edith Finch is one of those games.

Finch is ultimately about loss, grief and moving on. It manages to tell it’s emotionally charged story with just the lightest flicker of comedy. A flicker that takes what should be a dark and gloomy tale of one families tragic past, and turns it into an emotional and yet, incredibly uplifting tale about what comes next.

it’s a relatively short game, but one that knows exactly what it wants to say and gets out before it overstays its welcome. I was never bored with it. Where Gone Home relied on the illusion of horror to propel you through its story, Finch ditches that for good old fashion story telling. Where Firewatch slowly builds to a crescendo of fire and tension, Finch remains focused on telling you the story of its characters, their lives and ultimately, their deaths.

What Remains of Edith Finch is, to be entirely reductive, a walking-simulator. But you know what? It’s the best walking-simulator I’ve ever played, and I hope we see an awful lot more games that handle their subject matter and their narrative like this in the future.

There’s always going to be a small but incredibly vocal audience who’ll avoid this type of game, but don’t let them dissuade you. What Remains of Edith Finch is without a doubt one of the better games to release in 2017 and you absolutely should experience it.