The year is almost done and hopefully the usual vitriol has died down from the latest iteration of The Game Awards, where some game or platform has been robbed, so it’s time for me to sit back and think about what’s been good and bad about the games which have been a big part of my life in 2021.
My Best Game
I was pleasantly surprised with what I thought would stand out as my favourite game of the year, especially in a year that also included both Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite. But seeing as those games I’ve not had as much time to play through I’ve put them aside this time to focus on a others that delivered great experiences for me through the year.
First up is Hades, which arrived on Xbox this year after making a huge splash last year on PC. The wait was worth it though and every time I load it up again it sinks it’s demonic hooks into me and refuses to let go. The Rogue-like elements do well to ensure that you can’t predict what each escape attempt from the Underworld is going to be like and it does incredibly well in enabling anyone to pick it up and play (even a “god mode”). But what really won me over was just how well it’s put together. It really feels like the developers polished every little facet in this gem. I’m no expert on game design but Hades makes me think a lot on how other games can be better.
Next up is The Artful Escape – some may argue it’s not so much a game but an interactive audio visual demo but when you see and hear it in action, it all makes sense. At its heart it’s a story about a musician trying to forge his own path instead of following in a famous relative’s footsteps but once it kicks off it’s like a galactic rock opera where you are the guitar god. That it’s at a difficulty level that lets anyone give it a go really makes this an easy sell.
But the one for me that gets the win is Psychonauts 2. A sequel to a game from the Xbox and PS2 generation might not seem like the basis for a successful game but Psychonauts had a lot of fans and developer Doublefine played smart with how their new platformer would continue that legacy. I am still impressed with how well the original game’s “psychedelic Tim Burton” visual design was carried over and then dialled up to 11. The variety in these levels does so well in keeping the experience fresh too that it’s easy to find people having different favourites throughout the whole game. What won me over in the end though was that the story really grabbed me and gives the game such a big heart that the conclusion really felt earned and totally satisfying. It made me feel like this was Pixar level storytelling in a game and I loved it. It might have been the one game this year that I stopped playing everything else to focus on completing and I was glad I did.
Games that Surprised
It’s amazing that such a technical wonder of a game such as Microsoft Flight Simulator even exists on console and that it plays well too meant my friends and I spent a few hours travelling around the world looking at it from the pilot’s seat of our little planes. It’s by no means perfect but the moment you are in the air and see the world around you it’s hard to not be impressed by the experience. When the Top Gun Maverick expansion arrives we’ll be back at it again!
A Plague Tale: Innocence has been out for some time now but the latest console update for the game was a perfect opportunity for me to finally play it. I’m glad I did too because it was an excellent distraction from my regular games rotation thank to a strong story and some interesting adventure and puzzle elements. It worked really well with Quick Resume on the new consoles so I had it as my second game whenever I needed a change of pace. Revisiting the Mass Effect trilogy via the Legendary Edition was another gem for Quick Resume while showing just how well those classic games held up. The enhancements helped make them feel more cohesive, especially the first game,
As big a Halo fan as I am I was thinking that it wouldn’t hold my interest compared to the dual juggernauts that are Call of Duty and Battlefield but it turns out Halo Infinite might just be the best shooter I’ve played this year. Multiplayer gives you exactly what you expect and it’s clear the developers at 343 have worked hard to deliver a game that works and they are undeniably the masters of building competitive maps and modes. Coupled with a campaign that feels like taking the best of Halo CE‘s sandbox but massively increasing the scope and you have something that sets a new benchmark for the developer. I think it also shows that the time working on Halo MCC has helped steer them into the right direction on what makes Halo tick and this game is all the better for it.
Games that Disappointed
Another year and another Call of Duty game disappoints. Admittedly Cold War would gain traction and the updates that came through during the year really turned it around but I fear that Call of Duty Vanguard is in a worse place that will make it even harder to recover from. Technically it’s not a bad game, the campaign is good too, but it falls over where it matters in multiplayer and those flaws make it hard to recommend to new players because they’re not going to get a great first impression. Warzone Pacific seems promising with its new map being a striking difference to Verdansk but time will tell if it has legs, when it’s not buggy. I may keep playing but the incentive to stick around has dropped off dramatically. In the meantime, go play Halo Infinite instead.
Best Games I Should Be Playing
At this point it’s pretty clear that I should be giving Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite more time. Due to a recent crop of crash bugs I stepped away from FH5 but hope it’s all good to go for the new year. And Halo Infinite has dominated my multiplayer gaming recently and kept me away from a campaign which I’ve got to say is genuinely good – despite comparisons to other franchises it does feel a lot like a massive evolution of the series sandbox maps. It does what Halo has always done well… but bigger! 🙂
Expectations for 2022
I’m hoping that the Series X/S and PS5 patches for Cyberpunk 2077 finally arrive as I’ve been holding back on playing again with a different character until I can see the enhancements. It plays well enough as-is but would be nice to see how ray tracing and performance improvements help with the immersion. I think too many people were expecting this game to hit the same highs as Witcher III but I think that was asking the impossible, especially with a new game IP. For me it was still an incredibly impressive RPG and I’m looking forward to returning to it.
Bethesda’s new IP Starfield arrives at the end of 2022 and it’s likely we’ll see it in action leading up to release and I’m excited to see what it might be like. With the next Mass Effect still some time away it’s a good time for a new sci-fi franchise to make a mark. Another game that I didn’t expect to be looking forward to as much but I’ve changed my tune recently is the next Forza Motorsport. It’s been a long time since the last game and I’ve played a lot of FM7 since its delisting and think I’ve come to appreciate the game it evolved into. I think lessons learned from that will influence the new game greatly and I can’t wait to see what’s coming.
I’m also curious about how the multiplayer shooter landscape will be in twelve months too. With Halo Infinite setting itself up for the long term will Battlefield and Call of Duty be able to stick to their existing models or adapt again much like they did with Fortnite? There’s plenty of opportunities for all games to do better and with luck they will do a lot of that in 2022.
Whether it happens in 2022 or a year later I think it’s easy to assume we haven’t seen the last of what xCloud will offer players. Right now it’s only streaming games from the Game Pass catalogue but at some point we’re going to see your whole digital library accessible this way. Admittedly you can do that now through console streaming but it’s not the same as having Microsoft’s massive global network behind it. It’ll happen eventually and it’ll win over a lot more people.
Hopefully with us on the good side of pandemics and lockdowns, the New Year will let us enjoy a bit more sunshine than the last two years. The games will still be around and I bet I won’t be the only person still wanting to pick up the controller and continue to enjoy what here and what’s coming. 🙂