Game Awards 2020

Finally, even though there were times that 2020 felt like it was going to be with us forever, welcome to 2021. As is customary for every new year, we look back at the year that has come and gone. We take account of the highs, the lows and some of the more interesting moments that defined the year. So without further or do lets get the show started.

Worst game of the year:

I was originally going to put Fall Guys in here but to be fair that would have been a bit harsh. I may have hated the futility of the reward system, but the core gameplay was actually quite fun. There was no game I played from this year that was an absolute stinker which meant I had to go with which game I enjoyed the least. I chose this because what I felt it represented. I said in my review of it that it was nothing more than a nostalgia based cash-grab with as little effort as possible and for this it deserves to be shamed. Bad EA!! Naughty!!

Patreon game of the year:

This award was open to all of my Patreon members to vote for the game of 2020 they thought was the best and with a grand total of 1 vote cast we have a winner. Despite the story doing a lot of dicking around this was how I saw a Final Fantasy VII remake being done. I’m just hoping that in the second part the story can be a bit more focused on the task at hand.

Indie game of the year:

I was originally going to give the award to Endzone, but after playing Hades I couldn’t not give it the award. The gameplay was well defined, the art style captivating and most importantly it was fun to play. Well done SuperGiant.

Honourable mentions go out to Endzone: A World Apart & Vigil: The Longest Night

the one that got away award:

Half-Life Alyx

This award is given to the game I most wanted to review but for one reason or another (usually financial) I never managed to review. The Half-Life series is one that has just done it for me, so learning that the next instalment was a VR exclusively was both exciting and upsetting in equal measures as there was no way I could justify spending hundreds of pounds just so I could play it. Maybe this time next year someone will be paying me to play games and tell people what I think… maybe.

game of the year:

I really enjoyed The Last of Us Part II. It was much improved from the first game and that was great in it’s own right too. The characters were deep and very well rounded. The environments and rendering are some of the best I’ve seen on the PS4. The mechanics and gameplay were tight, felt solid and tied together nicely. This also nicely makes The Last of Us Part II the first sequel of a previous Game of the Year to win Game of the Year. Congratulations Naughty Dog, It’s not likely for lightning to strike twice in the same place. If you manage it a third time I’m going to call shenanigans.

Hades (PC, SWITCH)

I almost yearn for a day where games stop being about ancient Greece and the mythos surrounding it. Sure I understand that it’s culture and it’s stories were very well documented and preserved, making it a very easily accessible idea barrel for writers of all kinds. However, when the same games are set around the same fables doing the same thing it makes the whole pot a bit stale. Hades on the other hand, does things a little different.

In Hades you play as (as you would expect) Zagreus (got yah!) the son of Hades who has grown tired of lazing on his father’s infernal sofa eating Doritos and playing GTA and instead wants to go outside to play with all the other deity atop of Mount Olympus. Hades (the god, not the place) is very nonchalant about Zagreus decision to leave, probably because he believes Zagreus will give up trying to cut through the legions of the damned that guard the way. This is because Hades is all in favour of serving life lessons, he could just tell Zagreus no and send him to his room with no dinner after Zagreus tells him that he hates him and that he’s an asshole but nobody would learn anything, Zagreus would just hate his dad and still hold a desire to leave. However if he lets Zagreus try to leave only to find how difficult it is to do and have him return home with his tail between his legs, then that desire would be gone. Anyway, enough of deity parental strategies and lets get back to the game.

First things first, I love the art style and visuals of the game, it makes it feel like an animated heavy metal music video which scores many bonus points in my book. I also very much enjoy the looping gameplay mechanics the game offers. It seems to play with the idea that everything in the underworld is already dead, therefore cannot die. So each time you do “die” you get revived back in daddy’s lovely country villa with all your level ups intact and all the previously defeated enemies re-spawning. That’s great because it means that with each death the difficulty curve flattens a bit making the difficulty feel a bit more adaptive meaning you’ll never find yourself getting stuck at the same place for too long. The not so great thing about it is the slogging through of early areas to get back to where you were previously. What does make it interesting is you can randomly encounter other deities along the way who will lend you special powers to help you through your journey, These powers however do disappear when you die. The rouguelike-ness-ness-less-ness of the game means the maps regenerate every time you die too which in turn randomises the enemies and the other deities you meet. This keeps the game feeling slightly fresh as each play though is unique to the one before, even if only slightly. The gameplay is by far some of the best I’ve experienced this year. The controls felt very fluid and I could easily get Zagreus to do what I wanted him to do when I wanted him to do it. I could start firing a volley of arrow at my target and in an instant dodge any incoming attacks. This fluidity of controls becomes very important as the number of enemies increases.

If I have any gripes about this game it would be that the mechanics and rewards can be a bit overwhelming when first starting the game, it’s attempts to educate the player fall a bit wide of the mark but once you start playing the game and experimenting around with different types of weapons and level ups then they become a little less daunting and the variety that it creates adds to the games charm and fun. Later on in the game as you come across more enemies in each room the visual effects can obscure the view of the player somewhat and yes I am scraping the bottom of the niggle barrel to find something less than good to say about the game.

Overall Hades very much has a “Just one more” factor on it’s side which will keep players engaged for longer and longer the more powerful you become and the further you travel. It is most defiantly a game I will most defiantly continue playing after I finish my review. It also great for both those all day sessions and those moments where you only have a few minutes to spare whilst you’re waiting for your lockdown banana bread to bake.

Vigil: The Longest Night (PC, SWITCH)

Before we begin I’d like to thank the guys over at Another Indie for sent me a copy of the game to do this review for them. It’s the first game I’ve been sent to review, which makes me feel more like a professional than a hobbyist, so to me it’s quite a big deal. In return for their generosity I’m promising myself not to fuck this up. So, here goes.

Vigil tells the story of Leila, a more than capable Vigilant warrior. Who upon arriving back in her home village of Maye after years away discovers her sister to be missing and as such sets off to find her. Whilst there Leila discovers that all is not right at home. Shadowy figures appear and terrible happenings occur to which Leila must get to the bottom of in hopes that it will reunite her with her sister.

One thing I would recommend is if you are playing it on PC like I did, use a controller. The game feels like it wasn’t designed to be played using a keyboard, I felt like I was all fingers and thumbs a lot of the time, especially when trying to access my equipment or levelling up. After a while I managed to get to grips with it but I did have to change the dodge button because I found my game would minimize when continually mashing it with Windows asking me if I wanted to turn on ‘Sticky Keys’ which got quite frustrating, especially during boss fights.

There are 2 major niggles I have about the game that I found hard to overcome. The first of them is the map, I look at the map and the term, “Cluster Fuck” comes to mind. Speaking of cluster fucks this brings me to my second niggle, the story telling. I felt like a lot of the story was lost beneath a bombardment of text boxes. I get where the team were going with this, flesh out the world with lots of decryption in a Dark Souls-ish way but I don’t know if it’s a problem with me or not but I don’t think Dark Souls games tell a good story and Vigil suffers in the same way. Both games do a great job at crafting and defining the world in which the games are set but I did spend most of the game wondering around the map wondering why I was doing any of it.

Now lets get into what the game does well, first of I really enjoyed the art style, it resembles Briad if it were made by Tim Burton, both beautiful and grotesque in equal measures. I thought the animation of Leila was quite fluid but the enemies in comparison seemed a little clunky at times which impacted my ability to get immersed into the experience. I compared the game to Dark Souls earlier and in a true Dark Souls-esque manor, I died and I did so a lot. When quick loading it never took very long to get back into the game which is a positive but especially with the first boss I found the nearest save point was quite a ways from the boss fight itself meaning I had to needlessly repeat the same section over and over again. Having save points closer to the boss fights would be a huge improvement in my belief.

Overall if felt like I experienced a game of two extremes. The visuals and the attention to detail on the graphic art are brilliant but then on the other hand the story was so confusing and poorly told it might as well have not existed. It’s all shirt, no pants; Just like Winnie the Pooh. However; Despite all the negative points I’ve made the game is engaging and made me want to play on. It’s nowhere near a perfect game but it’s still an experience worth having if you enjoy a darker gaming experience. Well done to the teams at Glass Heart Games and Another Indie for a job well done and I wait eagerly for your future endeavours.

Endzone – A World Apart (PC)

As we get ever close to the years end I’ve started thinking more and more about my end of year awards and as it stands I have only reviewed 3 games from this year (Resident Evil 3, Final Fantasy VII Remake & Fall Guys), which kind of makes for slim pickings. So I’m hoping between now and the end of the year to build up this list by first reviewing games I’ve already played followed by games I’ll hopefully be able to afford to purchase. So lets start off with a game I eagerly anticipated when I first heard about it, Endzone – A World Apart.

Endzone is a post-apocalypse city builder where mankind has emerged from a series of underground bunkers called “Endzones” 100 years after the world was devastated by nuclear war (Guess it is true what Ron Pearlman said “War never changes”). It is up to you to build your settlement, gather resources, keep your settlers happy and healthy by keeping them fed, watered, clothed, entertained and free from radiation.

Hands up anyone that’s played Banished? If you have then you have a pretty good idea about how Endzone plays. It feels a lot like a re-skin with a new overlay and a few extras tied in. The manual resource gathering is exactly the same, the allocating of workers is the same, the farming mechanic is identical to name but a few. Aesthetically however they are completely different, where Banished is lovely and bright Endzone is mush moodier and darker (I suppose an apocalypse is a sure fire way to tone down the mood).

I have a love-hate relationship with city builders. I love the idea of them, watching as from noting but an idea a small settlement emerges from it’s humble beginnings into a vast expansive metropolis. However I do find that as my settlements start to expand and become a bit more complex I start to loose interest. The problem I find is that as my project expands I start to loose sight of what the overall objective is. That’s why I prefer mission based strategy and simulation games, at least then I have a tangible goal to aspire too. This may have less to do with the actual game itself and more to do with my own indecision and inability to set long term goals for myself… but I digress. In fairness though Endzone in one of their recent updates has introduced a scenario mode into the game which renders everything I’ve just said moot.

The game is still in early access so as to be expected there are still a few kinks in the system that are being addressed, this is more in regards to balancing the gameplay and adding features rather than anything physically wrong with the running of the game. In the 15hrs I’ve played the game in total I think I’ve only crashed to desktop once or twice.

I mentioned earlier how Endzone has a few extra bells and whistles compared to Banished. Some of those additions you can imagine are more common place in a post-apocalypse world, things like radiation levels, dust clouds, drought, electricity etc. Although one addition that does stand out for me that I particularly enjoyed is that of the expeditions. This involves sending scouts out to ruins such as warehouses, greenhouses, factories and the like. Then sending out teams of explorers to scavenge ruins for resources. What I really enjoy about this mechanic is that some ruins will require explorers with certain expertise or equipment, for example exploring a greenhouse would require someone who has expertise in farming in order to gain new seeds or you might need to take better grade tools in order to clear obstacles. My only problem with this is that there is no way to micromanage your settlers so that you can train specific settlers to gain experience in specific fields, meaning that meeting conditions for some of the more demanding ruins can be more pot luck than anything else.

I have been playing Endzone on and off since it came out back in April and it has been steadily improving since it’s initial early access release and with more improvements scheduled I hope to see further improvements. Additionally, the developers have teamed up with OneTreePlanted who will plant a tree for ever purchase of the Save The World Edition of the game. Turns out you can save the planet by playing video games… Who knew?

What Remains of Edith Finch (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This week I’ve not been in a position financially to pick up any new games. As such I went through my back catalogue of PSPlus games that I’ve downloaded when they were free and just not got around to playing them. This game peaked my interest more than the other so I decided to look into it. After a little research (checked the wikipedia page) and saw that it won the BAFTA for Best Game in 2017. That cemented my decision to give it a go and here is what I found.

What Remains of Edith Finch takes place on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State. It tells the story of Edith Finch’s return to her old family home which she inherits after her mother passed away. She intends to return to the house in order to find out the truth behind the strange happenings and incidents that befell her family. The game plays through the tragedies that befell each of the Finch’s starting from her great grandfather Odin Finch all the way though to present day.

The tone of the game is set from the very beginning as you make your way up to the house. The feelings of isolation and apprehension that are instilled into the player as you walk through the woods up to the old, crooked house. You know at that point that the game is going to be very atmospheric and story driven and in no way is it going to be all rainbows and sunshine. The game-play is quite minimalist with only a few controls available to the player, move the player, move the camera and an action button. I find it very effective in allowing the player to concentrate more on the narrative.

The story is mainly told through narrations, mostly by Edith herself. The rest is done in segments by each of the Finch family moments before their tragic end. Each segment plays out very differently from person to person. For example, Sam Finch was an amateur photographer so his story is told through photographs while Barbara Finch was a child movie star so her’s is told in the style of a comic book. This makes each segment feel a bit more personal and stops the game from becoming stale. This is also helped by the length of the game, it being easily completed within a couple of hours. Although I’m not sure what to make of this. I left the game wanting more but there was nothing more to tell, like getting to the end of a box of Jaffa Cakes and being 2-3 cakes short of being completely satisfied.

To round it all up, I’ve seen a few reviews of the game stating it as a example of video games as an art form and I must confess that I do agree. The atmosphere and the environment do wonders to immerse the player into the role of each of the family members, however some segments are more immersive than others. For example I found Molly’s segment a little disjointed while Lewis’s on the flip side really stood out as being equally engaging and harrowing. In a sentence it’s a great story told in a great way and if you can find it for a great price… Great.

Stardew Valley (MOBILE, PC, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

I’ve been trying for the past week to come up with a topic to talk about, I’ve started a couple but never managed to get written down enough to be happy with. I have just started playing the remake of Final Fantasy VII but I’d like at least a couple of weeks under my belt before I let the world know what I think of it, therefore we head as close to casual gaming as I am happy to go. I speak of the wonderful pixelated paradise that is Stardew Valley.

Now anyone that’s played a classic Harvest Moon game will know how this goes. You’ve left your hectic, stressful life in the city behind and inherited a farm from a dead relative (usually Grandfather) in a small, remote country setting and it’s up to you to fix it up in order to find the good life. Growing crops, raising livestock, making cheese, keeping bees, getting married, having kids etc. Essentially things you’d rather be doing then questioning where you went wrong in life (I know I do). It mimics Harvest Moon down to it’s underpants then adds it’s own modern elements such combat as well as mining and crafting elements.

The game itself seemed to press all the right buttons in my frontal cortex to keep me engaged for more hours than I care to remember. You could spend the rest of your life and then some imagining, designing and maintaining your own little slice of paradise. If you are one of those 100% completion nutters you best get a shortcut to the wiki on your favourite browser as you’ll soon find the scope of the game to be vast. Between becoming best friends with the whole valley, completing all the collections, exploring all the caves and extra areas the game will keep you entertained for years and given how cheap the game can be bought for it’s defiantly value for money.

I played the game originally on the PC a few years back and more recently on mobile and I do find the mobile version easier to put down, not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just literally easier to put down and walk away from. I can sit there for a few minutes on my phone whilst on the toilet, play though a day or two before my legs get numb and I have to get on with the rest of my day. The PC version on the other hand gave me a case of the “Just-One-More’s” where I would decide to play for an hour or so before breakfast only to walk away when the sun has gone down and it’s time to go back to bed.

Now for a final thought. There are very few things that get under my skin when it comes to Stardew Valley, I think my biggest niggle with it is that it’s too easy to make money and the whole thing becomes more of a vanity project rather than a challenge. Maybe if I had to keep some of my crops and produce aside so that the player didn’t starve then the game might have provided more of a challenge. I know that each in game action costs stamina but you can replenish said stamina at the days end or by taking a dip in the spa so the whole thing become less of a hindrance and more of a minor annoyance. It seems that world hunger was solved by stopping people from needing to eat but then again if that was true why is there still a market for my goat’s cheese?