We’ve done the Reader’s Awards, where you lot scientifically determine the best games of the year, with labcoats and calculators and whatnot. We’ve done the Alternative Awards, where we celebrate a wide variety of games with a series of nonsensical awards. So now, the personal picks, where each of us talk a bit about games that we – individually – think are some of the best of the year. These are mine, so obviously they’re also the most objectively correct. That’s how objectivity works, right?
As per usual, these aren’t really in any particular order but these are a few of the games from the last 12 months that I’ve really quite enjoyed. And only a few. Because Peter and Paul are mean and won’t let me list, like, ten games.
Yeah, look, I’m not letting this one slip by, because NieR: Automata is absolutely fantastic. It says something that it’s one of the least-good ports of the year and yet it’s still one of my absolute favourite things of the year, and if I had to pick just one thing from the entire year, it’d probably be this.
On the surface, Nier: Automata is a game in which you are a lady robot who beats up tin-can robots with a variety of oversized weapons – FOR THE GLORY OF MANKIND – and because it’s developed by Platinum, the beating-up of robots is quite well done. Beneath this, however, is a really heartbreaking tale of all sorts of stuff I’m not going to spoil for you, because it’s written and directed by Yoko Taro, a man who has spent the last 15 years turning player suffering into an art form.
It is, honestly, a game to play for the story – and to a slightly lesser extent, the plot. If you dive deep into it and actually let it wash over you, it’ll challenge a few of your assumptions and quite possibly make you think quite hard about all sorts of topics, although which topics they are may well depend on who you are. Unlike with Night in the Woods I can’t go into details without spoiling way too much, unfortunately, and it’s entirely possible my interpretation might be different to yours. This is no bad thing.
As a game, it’s quite good fun. As an experience, it’s really fucking special. I generally believe I’m onto a good thing if I start thinking “Huh, I should really write a critique of this sometime” and this year NieR: Automata is the game that did this for me.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Fair disclaimer – a friend of mine did a bunch of voices for this game. To counteract this, I’ll point out that I didn’t know about this until I was halfway through, went “Hang on, isn’t that…?” and asked her. Someday, I hope that she’ll find an hour to pop along to the podcast and say hi.
With that disclaimer out of the way, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is basically just Larian knocking CRPGs out of the park, again. It’s in-depth, has a cast of likeable characters, and lets you get really depressing quests from bear cubs. It still has design decisions I’m trying to figure out (is the new armour system actually a good thing? Survey says…) but this hasn’t done anything to impinge my enjoyment of a bloody great CRPG.
Probably my favourite thing, though, is that – even moreso than its predecessor – it lets you progress pretty much however you want. There are definite plot points you have to hit, but you can get to them in almost any way you like. You can outright murder plot-critical NPCs and the game will find a way to continue working. You can practically cheat your way through sidequests via clever use of powers, and the game will give you a wink and a nod for doing so, often outright congratulating you for finding a smart way of doing things. The fact that Divinity: Original Sin 2 is great isn’t a surprise, but it still managed to surpass most of the expectations I had for it, and that’s saying something.
A slightly bigger surprise was how much I liked Resident Evil 7 – and also, what Resident Evil 7 did. Along with a lot of other people, I think I was expecting more of a run-and-hide game in the vein of Alien: Isolation and Outlast (or Clock Tower and Haunting Ground, if you know them). What I found was a modern take on the survival horror genre.
Yes, there are bits of running and hiding, but there’s also plenty of gunplay and inventory management. But the biggest success isn’t so much in the game mechanics as it is in the atmosphere: shifting the protagonist from Burly Soldier Guy to an everyman investigating the disappearance of his wife and getting wrapped up in terrifying weirdness helps a lot; time is spent building up an atmosphere so thick you can taste it; and scripted jumpscares – on the rare occasions they happen – feel fully earned by the time spent leading up to them. The Baker estate is a funhouse of the grotesque and I absolutely loved wincing my way through it.
It’s a rare joy to see a long-running series revitalised quite this well, and that’s something I feel is worth championing.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
And then we have XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, my first response to which was “Haha, I’m not paying nearly that much for an expansion pack.” Silly me. War of the Chosen is less an expansion pack and more a complete revamp of XCOM 2 – in technical terms, too, since it fixes a lot of the engine issues with the base game.
Peter decided to quote me when it won a reader award so I’ve already said most of what I have to say, but it does a damn good job of procedurally creating some antagonists for you, and letting you pit ludicrous super-soldiers against them via the new upgrade stuff. You’re juggling more balls and DOOM CLOCKS than ever, but you’re absolutely given the tools to deal with them, and the extra characters and villains help the world feel a lot more complete.
Basically, it’s XCOM 2: The Significantly Better Version, and I’m more than okay with this.
There are about a dozen things I want to mention in here but I apparently have to limit myself, and I’m also not allowed to do a “Nearly Honourable Mentions” section, so I’m afraid we’re only getting three. Graaagh.
Night in the Woods – Aargh. I still haven’t finished this. Go and read what Peter had to say about it, because he’s usually right about things.
Prey – A superb “immersive sim” or whatever the fuck we’re calling that genre, but I haven’t played it extensively enough to really comment on it or call it one of my favourites of the year. I may regret missing out on cheering harder for this when I finally get around to finishing it.
Secret World Legends – It’d just be wrong not to mention the relaunch of The Secret World, considering how much I adore the original. Secret World Legends rejigs a lot of things and is now at the point of adding actual new content, having basically caught up to the original game. I haven’t played nearly enough of it, but I’m glad to see it continue.
The Untouched Backlog:
I’m also going to do something here which my dear colleagues haven’t, and mention a few games I really haven’t played much of at all but fully intend to do so over the holiday period, mostly because people have told me they’re A Bit Good. Assuming I can find the time, I expect each of these to entertain me over the next few weeks, in their own special ways.
Okami HD – It was great on every other system I played it on, and I look forward to barking at dogs again on PC.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony – Yet another school murderfest, but I’ve only played one chapter of it so far, so I don’t know if it’s a real contender or if the shtick is wearing a bit thin.
Observer – A Rutger Hauer simulator with lots of cyberpunk and horror and stuff, and that’s the sort of sentence that makes me want to play a game.