Normally, this is the time of the year when I start handing out game awards with goofy names. The criteria is not what I consider the best games of the year, but games that I liked the best. I very rarely play the games on the best of the year lists, especially in the year they are released, so I don’t have much to contribute to that conversation. The one exception, of course, are FromSoft games, and I promise I will get to that later–but probably not in this post. A few weeks ago, I started thinking about the games I played this year, and I realized that there weren’t many that really stood out for me. More to the point, there weren’t that many that I actually finished.
I tend to play one ‘big’ game at a time (big in terms of amount of things to do, not necessarily Triple A or story-wise or whatnot). Ian and I like to joke that he has an ADD approach to gaming whereas I have an OCD approach. However, I’ve been thinking lately that I am more ADD than OCD than I previously thought. Yes, I can focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, but that’s the hyperfocus part of ADD. Anyway, this year, I played Sekiro at the end of March/all of April when it was released. I played it obsessively. I thought about it when I wasn’t playing it. I dreamed about it. It was in my blood, and I didn’t have room to think about anything else. We shall, of course, get to that later.
One of my enduring quests is to find a mystery game that I can really sink my teeth into. There are plenty of mystery games out there, but, unfortunately, most of them are…not great. I’ve written at length about my disappointment with them before (and the point-and-click genre in general), so I’m not going to rehash those points. I’ll just say that my experiences this year with the genre cemented my belief that those games are not for me. I tried Unavowed and Thimbleweed earlier in the year, and while the former held promise (the latter irritated me from the beginning), it inevitably fell into the trap that so many point-and-clicks do–namely, making me do elaborately nonsensical things to accomplish a quest AND showing me things I knew I would need later, but did not allow me to pick up the first time I saw them. This is the year I’ve given up on point-and-clicks, and I’m a bit sad about it.
The one that hurts the most, however, when it comes to murder games is Disco Elysium. I was hyped about it before it came out, and I was in love with the graphics. The atmosphere was moody, intense, and dripping with gorgeousness. The music was so perfect as well, and despite myself, I had high hopes as I played the first hour. I really dug playing as a suicidal, dystopic, alcoholic, amnesiac detective who was slowly fumbling to recovery. It’s an open world RPG, and it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning. The UI wasn’t great, but I was able to overlook that. I wandered around talking to everyone possible and interacting with whatever I could. There were heavy themes, which I appreciated, and I thought, “Maybe this is the one!”
Alas, that was not the case. It took a lot out of me emotionally to play this game because it was so bleak, and then the RNG aspects frustrated the hell out of me, which I have already written about. But, I soldiered on because it had such good ideas, and I really wanted to love it. But, then something happened with the horrible kids that was so grotesque and repulsive (something they did/said, not my character), my brain slammed down and refused to play any longer.
Quick side note: Why can’t I kill kids in games? I tried so hard in Skyrim, which did not end well for me. I really wanted to kill the two horrid brats in Disco Elysium, but more to the point, I hated how they were portrayed. I don’t mind that they were bad kids because that’s realistic, but the way they were portrayed was disgusting, plus it wasn’t realistic, either. I mean, there’s a noir vibe to the whole game, but most of the characters at least seemed plausible. The kids were straight out of a B-movie or written as if the person doing so thought, “How can I make them as egregious as possible?” In other words, they were written for shock value, and I do not appreciate that at all.
Then there were games I couldn’t play such as the Return of the Obra Dinn–also a mystery game. It was made by Lucas Pope who also made the terrific Papers, Please. I was eagerly looking forward to Obra Dinn, and I had a great time with the demo. Unfortunately, the graphics are in an old-timey, early computer fashion, and while they look great, they made me nauseous. I looked on the forums, of course, but there was no recourse. Reluctantly, I gave up on the game because I cannot play a game that makes me nauseous, no matter how great it is.
Another game I was very intrigued to try was Life is Strange. It was touted as a very emotional game in which the teenagers were realistically depicted, and you had to make choices that were meaningful. It was released in episodes, but I waited for it to be finished and sold as one game before I bought it. I was curious about it, and I liked the graphic style of the game. I could relate to Max (the main character), but I hated her photography teacher and most of her classmates. In addition, I found that making decisions in this game was so stressful that I was almost paralyzed every time I had to make a choice. I had that problem in real life, so why would I want to put up with it in a game? Plus, most of the characters are deeply unpleasant, especially…David? Is that his name? The security guard? In addition, I didn’t find the teenagers believable at all, but it’s been three decades since I was one.
I’ve tried several Souls-like this year. Of course I have because Souls. Tell me a game is like Souls? I’ll try it. Remnant: From the Ashes is Souls with guns, but there were too many mob bosses and the environments were too similar. Ashen was one I most recently played, and I really enjoyed the first three hours. Then, the fourth hour kicked in, and a myriad of problems showed up. The worst, however, was that I painstakingly cleared an area, then I had to do a jump with my AI partner, then I fell, and he was in the area I needed to be. I was trying to recover my souls (scoria, I think), but I had to get to where he was in order to get it. Did he come back to help me? No. Did he die in the new area? Yes. So, I couldn’t get to him, and he couldn’t get to me. I decided to return to the bonfire (can’t remember what it’s called in this game. Some kind of stone) and All. The. Enemies. Were. Back. Because I had gone briefly into another area before returning to the one I had cleared. Yeah, no. I was done (though I did make it back to the bonfire), and I haven’t played it since.
There have been two Souls-like/Souls-like that I played at some length and enjoyed more or less until I didn’t. Well, that’s not quite right, but it’s the closest to how I actually feel about the games. There is also another game that is not Souls-like at all that I quite enjoyed as well, along with a game I played years ago that I resurrected this year as one of my comfort games. All of them will play a part in my actual game awards post–which will be next week. See you then.
Video note: Gang Beasts is hilarious, and I really like the Outside Xbox and Outside Xtra crews, so I included one of their Gang Beasts videos in this post.