I don’t know about you, but people keep saying to me there weren’t any great games this year.
I’ll admit, there weren’t any generation-defining classics from the likes of Popstar, BadDog, or CD Projekt Red Dead Redemption 6. But genuinely, how could there be when Covid measures have contributed to more delays than even the merest hint of snow does to all UK public services?
On top of that, it’s very easy to forget that access to the best places to play these games sucks harder than Kirby on laughing gas. Cryptominers are hogging the best graphics cards and scalpers are hoarding more next-gen consoles than Jeff Bezos has toilets in his mansion - even if there’s not that much to play on the 14 PS5s and Series Xs they’ve got stashed in the cupboard under the stairs.
But when the odds are stacked against us, we’ll still find something awesome to play.
And in what’s supposed to be a fallow crop, I think it says a lot that I’ve managed to put together an eclectic list of fantastic games while missing three excellent and totally essential major publisher releases in Deathloop, Returnal, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City is an OG Skyrim mod, spun out into a full mind-bending, time-twisting, detective story with the might of Unreal Engine.
I misspent a lot of my teenage years downloading mods for Fallout 3, New Vegas, Oblivion and Skyrim, so it’s no wonder that this tight, endlessly mind-blowing, story-driven romp hits me right in the nostalgic feels.
While the scope is as limited as you’d expect from a smaller indie project, the web of interwoven stories begs to be unravelled with an inscrutability that pulls you into the adventure rather than feeling overwhelming like you find with some of the big budget, open-world RPGs with huge landmasses to explore.
The subtle ways each quest leads into another drives everything along at an engrossing pace, and it’s one of those games where it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, so I’m deliberately holding back on giving too much context.
If like me you enjoy short, self-contained, talky game experiences and can overlook some graphical and character choices that really embody the spirit of janky Oblivion NPCs, the few hours you’ll spend excavating the secrets of The Forgotten City are about as enjoyable as any game in 2021.
Like a lot of people, I enjoy feeling smart - but need a little help sometimes.
I was a bit young for the ‘00s Hitman games, and the boundless opportunities of the sandbox were a little lost on my unrefined gaming palate.
But now in Hitman 3, with the further honing of the Mission Stories mechanic, slick, satisfying, and devilishly clever assassinations are subtly highlighted in the environment like objectives in a murderous Tony Hawk game.
It’s the perfect balance of expansive, detailed, and varied levels, surprising objectives and opportunities, and the right amount of room to improvise to be almost as fun on subsequent challenge runs as the first time through.
Thankfully, it seems like this latest Hitman scored a bit more of the success it richly deserves, despite being dumped in its now traditional Q1 launch slot which dooms it to be forgotten come awards season. But the VG247 elephant never forgets.
Resident Evil Village
Can a game be a teeny bit disappointing and still one of the best of the year?
After a true come-to-Jesus moment with the Resident Evil 2 Remake, I made up for lost time with the disgracefully scary Resident Evil 7 and my hopes were higher than the limbo bar at Mr X’s beach party going into Resident Evil Village.
Going into literally any game with great expectations is always a mistake, but I let my excitement get the better of me and eagerly crept around every corner waiting to be impressed.
Thankfully, I was very impressed. But I couldn’t help but be taken out of the moment by the tiny foibles here and there.
The werewolves gnawing on your fingers - despite looking a bit like yer Dad towelling off from a swim: damp and sockless - are suitably gross and scary, but there do seem to be only about three different models for them.
Then jingling around through the trash in your pockets to find the esoteric answer to whatever puzzle you’ve been stuck on for the last 20 minutes isn’t exactly a masterclass in signposting.
But I think a lot of the disappointments boil down to Capcom trying to capture lightning in a bottle three times now, and the glow is starting to dim ever so slightly. Yes, getting chased around by instantly iconic villains is cool, but we’ve seen Mommytrescu’s hunter AI before - it’s just not as startlingly original a third time.
The lesson here is: expect perfection and you’ll always be disappointed - even by something beautiful.
However, if you’ve not played the Resident Evil 2 Remake, and can go into Village fresh, I am so jealous of you.
If The Ascent was a movie, it’d have come out in 1988, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Verhoeven, and be banned in Australia for extreme violence.
Low-key one of the best looking games this term, and one that absolutely nails the cyberpunk vibe that’s so ‘in’ right now, it’s a wonder that this relatively expansive RPG with a city full of side-quests and collectibles was developed by a core team of just 12 people.
Forza Horizon 5
Once every couple of consoles, magic happens.
Most of the time, racing games are treated as a niche within a niche - regarded for some reason as too technical to put the time into learning, as if working out when to push a brake is less worthy than when to block with a sword or time the activation of an ability.
Maybe the fantasy is just less appealing when driving is something a lot of people do to some degree every day. But now-and-then, a mainstream racing game hits the perfect sweet spot, offering accessibility, a compelling challenge, and a moreish collect-a-thon that really takes players by the scruff of the neck.
A lot of people say: “I don’t play racing games.” But mention Burnout Paradise to those same people, or Need For Speed Underground 2 to those a bit older, and they’ll purr like a Ferrari’s idling engine about how they loved it so much.
Forza Horizon 5 has the potential to be that mainstream racing game for a whole new generation of players.
Plus the radio edit of Bring Me the Horizon’s Teardrops is one of the funniest things I’ve heard this year: “EVERYTHING IS…. MESSED UP!!!!”