New Year’s is almost here, which means it’s time for my favorite blog post of the year: all about what I loved in the video games I played this year.
I like to restrict this list to new games, rather than anything from my pre-2017 backlog. And instead of focusing on a top 10 list of games or something equally difficult to rank, this post is here to celebrate what video games did right. It might be something that stood out to me as being unique, a plot twist that caught me off guard, or a character I loved (or hated, in a memorable way).
So without further adieu, here is what I loved in video games this year.
Most Unique Gameplay: SUPERHOT
SUPERHOT is a first-person shooter that plays with the genre just like Portal did — but in a totally different way. In a minimalist world of black, white, and red, time only moves forward when you are physically moving. That means any time you stop, everything around you also pauses — giving you precious moments to take in your surroundings, notice the enemy coming from your left, and look for another gun that might have more ammo. I would often find myself moving just an inch at a time, then freezing to assess the exact direction of a bullet coming towards me as it hung in mid-air so I could dodge it. This set-up makes SUPERHOT feel more like a strategy game than a traditional FPS.
Most Arresting Level or Quest: God of Illusion (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice)
In Hellblade, the protagonist Senua must at one point face the God of Illusion on his turf: a forest of mirages that seems almost impossible to navigate. The trick is stepping through wooden archways decorated in animal skulls, which cause the world around her to shift. Once she walks under an archway, a new path might appear, such as a wooden board over a pit or staircase leading to another part of the garden. Remembering what appears as you pass through the archways is the trick to getting through this area. But just the act of exploring this strange, secret world is what makes the God of Illusion level so arresting.
Biggest Nemesis: Harley Quinn (Injustice 2)
Harley Quinn was the enemy I most dreaded seeing in any game I played this year. I tried Injustice 2 and found it really fun — at first. Until I realized that it plays quite differently than Netherealm’s latest fighting game, Mortal Kombat X, which I was obsessed with last year.
I practiced my moves as Catwoman, but just when I was feeling pretty confident, I had to face Harley Quinn. Her moves are fast-paced, and she has both melee and ranged attacks. She can whip out her baseball bat as quickly as her pistols, and she has a habit of tossing things at you that blow up or bite you. She constantly out-paced and out-maneuvered me, to the point where hearing her shout, “Get ’em, boys!” to sic her pet hyenas on me made me cringe. I started to hate her wicked little laugh and jester hat. The fact that he was my boyfriend’s main character made playing against him a bit of a lost cause in my household.
I suppose I could keep practicing my fights against her, but I’d rather go back to Mortal Kombat which depicts a world where Harley Quinn doesn’t even exist.
Most Awkward Moment: Ryder Hitting on Jaal (Mass Effect: Andromeda)
You guys know I love romance, and BioWare games have it in spades. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, my character Ryder romanced Jaal, a sexy alien who had a huge family and was really in touch with his emotions. And let me tell you, when I selected the dialogue option to tell Jaal how my Ryder felt about him… what came out of her mouth afterwards was just so amazingly awkward, I loved and related to her more than ever.
Favorite Time Playing Dress Up: Catwoman (Injustice 2)
Dressing my Nobushi in For Honor is a close second here, but my favorite times trying on outfits this year was as Catwoman in Injustice 2. That’s one major thing Injustice 2 has going for it over Mortal Kombat X: the ability to acquire new gear and style your character however you like. Catwoman’s outfits had a sleek, vintage quality to them that was also totally badass and sexy. I just love Catwoman, guys.
Best Level Design: Cuphead
I played a handful of levels in Cuphead before giving up in frustration — and then watched my fiancé get a little further than me, which was fun. But what makes Cuphead frustrating is also what makes it unique, which is why I want to give it its due.
The first thing to catch the eye with Cuphead is its gorgeous animated art style, all drawn by hand to resemble the cartoons from the 1930s. But its the level design that hooks you — or scares you away, like it did me! Each level revolves around a boss and takes about two minutes to beat, provided you complete the level almost perfectly. But since you can only be hit three times before you’re out and have to start over, timing is everything.
Because of the sheer number of projectiles coming at you and the chaos that ensues, you’ll fail — many, many times. That means repeating the level, memorizing what happens next, and timing every move precisely to take down the boss. It’s a set-up that was too challenging and repetitive for me, but I can see the addicting quality of this unique level design.
Besides that, I loved seeing the art of each level. In one, you’re flying a little plane through the sky dodging airborne projectiles; in another, you battle some boxing frogs and a slot machine. Seeing what each level had in store was a delight.
Funniest Game: Night in the Woods
This game about woodland critters living in a small town seems sweet on the surface, but that cute exterior is hiding a world of snark. In Night in the Woods, you play as Mae, who is home from college and trying to figure out what to do with her life. As she hangs out with friends around town — drinking at a party, stealing from a Hot Topic-like store at the mall, and chatting with her parents — you get to experience sarcasm, one-liners, and some of the most genuine dialogue in any game I’ve played. Things get real fast, guys. And even some of the deepest moments had me laughing out loud, which was a great combination.
Most Passionate Couple: Bayek and Aya (Assassin’s Creed Origins)
When I first started playing Assassin’s Creed Origins, I had no idea I would also be meeting his wife Aya. The two are one of those powerhouse couples that everybody wants to be. Every time they meet up, they’re all over each other. Their passionate personalities extend to the political realm, as they not only seek revenge on those who broke up their family, but also want to help change their world for the better. I’m still playing through the game, so I can’t comment on their full story yet — only that they are the most romantic, sexy couple I’ve come across this year, and I totally want to be Aya.
Favorite Game for a Sick Day: Persona 5
I played about 25 hours of Persona 5 over the course of three days I was home sick with an awful flu. And it was magical. I think it’s partly because Persona 5 takes place largely in a high school setting, which took me back to sick days when I was a student staying home from school.
Because it’s a strategy game, I didn’t have to stress about fast-paced combat that gave me a headache (as shooters sometimes do) — I could take my time with each move, or even stop altogether, mid-battle, to do something attractive like blow my nose. The awesome characters, daily life gameplay, and catchy soundtrack make it especially inviting to play when you’re sick. Next time you have a lazy day away from the rest of the world, I recommend this one.
Most Intriguing World: Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn whisks you away to a post-apocalyptic future where machine creatures roam the wilds, and people living in tribal villages must hunt them with bows and arrows. It’s unlike any fictional world I’ve encountered before, and somehow the strange juxtaposition of tribal life and technology feels real. The game is all about discovering the origins of this society and how the world came to be inhabited by these kinds of people and machines. It’s an investigation that hinges on exploration, and it makes Horizon the best game I played all year.
What were your favorite games this year, and what did you like about them?