2019 — A Year of Gaming In Reflection

2019 was a fantastic year for gaming. Like in the previous generation, I’d say that the last 2 years have been the swan song of the 8th generation, bringing us many fantastic games. But as lifespan of the 8th generation was depleting, so too was my free time. Finding time to play games regularly has become a more difficult thing for me to do, as is the case for many people who move on from a single life to a life in a relationship, especially living together with their partner. In order to reflect on the year that passed, for gaming, I wanted to take note of the games that I played and enjoyed the most, while paying closer attention to whether or not I actually finished them.

Disco Elysium — Status: Ongoing

Disco Elysium is a game that I am determined to finish, despite not having done so yet, without having any real excuse. This is my moment inside the confession box. Forgive me ZA/UM, for I have sinned, and not dedicated my free time to completing this absolute joy of a game.

Disco Elysium awoke from the void of nonexistence in the public image, much in the same way that your character first awakens from his week long bender to the cold, harsh reality of Martinaise. Unlike its protagonist, this superstar RPG was met with glowing praise by people who recognised it for the instant classic that it is.

Much has been said about this game, and what makes it so unique. The biggest factor for why the game is just so incredibly strong, in my opinion, is the strange but real world that they managed to create. A setting which feels immense and expansive, a setting that you can poke and prod and try to pull apart, but each time you do so you find that the scene isn’t just a cardboard cut out like many other games, but a genuine world, tragically similar to our own.

So why didn’t I finish it? As much as I love this game, it’s best to play it when I’m in a certain mindset. A mindset which has me at my peak cerebral performance, ready to take in information, truly take part in the world and play the role of the detective. To put it bluntly, my schedule and occupation often leave me with little mental energy to play it and take it all in.

But I will finish it, I swear on Her Innocence!

Monster Hunter: World — Status: Nearly Impossible To Finish, Yet Almost Done

Sorry 2019, but Monster Hunter: World is just too good to not make it to this year’s list too.

There’s something absolutely incredible about Monster Hunter that I just can’t seem to be able to drop. Even after having hundreds of hours under my belt, having almost all of the endgame, ultra rare items, almost all the weapons, having finished the story and all the hardest challenges long ago, I still find it as my go-to game at the end of the day when I have a few hours of spare time.

Monster Hunter is the perfect, idealised version of the kind of game that crappy looter shooters like Destiny, The Division and Anthem want to be. A pure game with gameplay so good that you don’t mind essentially doing the same tasks over and over again.

One interesting thing that I’ve noticed with World is that with the upcoming release of Iceborne, the expansion DLC, on PC, in January 2020, my attention to the game shifted from simply doing the hardest missions ad nauseam to get the rarest materials, to doing easier missions, sometimes ludicrously so, for the sake of getting the easier to get, yet numerous weapons, with the foreknowledge that many weapons which are currently weak, will be useful in the coming expansion. It’s an interesting way to increase a game’s lifespan without adding new content, helped, of course, by the fact that the game is just so incredible to play.

I suspect that Monster Hunter: World will continue to star in my top games played of 2020 as well.

Ace Combat 7 — Status: Complete, except for DLC

While I may not be the biggest fan of the series, Ace Combat 04 and 0 are some of my absolute favorite PS2 games ever. The gameplay was great, the setting was intriguing if sometimes poorly written, and the music, oh lord the music, it was just out of this world.

To me, what Ace Combat 7 needed to do to succeed was to bring back the Strangereal setting, with all its countries and their endless squabbles (something that was robbed by the previous entry, Assault Horizon, which chose to set the game in our boring real world), bring back the pure dogfighting experience (also removed in Assault Horizon in favor of some weird mini game type thing) and just continue to deliver on what made the previous games fun. It did all of these things, and then some.

While the story was a flat note, continuing to shove you from one location to the next without any real build up or payoff, the setting is back and crazier than ever, the dialogue is as poorly written as ever, the combat is fantastic and full of fighter jet porn (if you’re into that kind of thing), and the music, god bless, is as good as ever.

Ace Combat 7 is one of those games, like Disco Elysium, whose success matters more to me than whether or not the game fully meets my needs and expectations. Gaming as an ecosystem only stands to benefit from the existence of niche titles like this, with their dedicated fans, and I’m happy to see that the game did well.

If I had to think of why this game kept my attention, it’d be the anticipation of the grand finale. Having played the series, I know that the final acts of such a game are always explosive, grandiose affairs, and like the game as a whole, I was not disappointed at all by the conclusion.

Devil May Cry 5 — Status: Finished on hardest proper difficulty, bloody palace on all characters

I LOVE THIS GAME!

Devil May Cry 5 is an absolute beast of a game, it managed to surpass my high expectations with every step it took. I cannot overstate how good this game is, how much of a masterclass of action gameplay it is, and how frustrated and angry I’ll be when this game won’t win any game of the year awards because some western game like Jedi Fallen Order shared the same release year as it.

DMC5 made me contemplate a lot on the nature of action games, why some of them work better than others, and what it is that separates the great from the good.

If I had to pinpoint the single thread that runs through this game’s heart and soul, it’d be a desire to make the player be amazed by their own actions, while not helping them in any way. What do I mean by this? Many contemporary action games strive to help the player feel stylish and strong by helping them do so. If it’s by giving them tacked on RPG mechanics, by homing the player in on the enemy they want to attack, or giving them unnecessary power ups that make fights a cakewalk. DMC5 does none of these things, and as a result, when you manage to figure out how to play the game well, and you will, the immense sense of achievement and empowerment will be yours and ONLY yours.

I could go on about how wonderful and subtly terrifying the monster design is, how diverse they are to fight, how absolutely unbelievably good every single weapon the game has feels to use, but I fear that I’ve already praised this game enough and that it’s best to leave the praise at “this is the best action game ever made, and it needs to be recognised as such”.

The game inspired me to beat the Bloody Palace mode, which is a 101 level survival mode. It’s fairly difficult to beat, even for a veteran player, and requires a lot of time, some 2 hours, culminating in a gauntlet of three forms of the final boss of the game. It’s a top heavy, brutal challenge, but god damn if it doesn’t feel good to beat.

If I had to think about what made me finish this game, many times over, it’s primarily the drive to get better at it. Watching god-players like Donguri absolutely destroy the bosses and wreck the Bloody Palace inspired me to be a better player myself. That, and the moment to moment gameplay being just incredibly good. The aforementioned weapons, Balrog in particular, just being an utter joy to play.

And now I want to play it again.

Judgement — Status: Abandoned

This game is cool, it’s the first Yakuza game I’ve gotten into, but alas, it’s proof that Yakuza games and I are simply not compatible.

The game starts off very strong, with a crime conspiracy story, a set of interesting characters and a well defined setting, but by the time I had reached the start of chapter 5, I was tempted to look at just how many chapters there are in the game, as I was feeling that I had passed the halfway point. When I saw that there were a total of 13, I decided that it’s not Judgement, it’s me.

I really enjoyed the start of the game, when everything felt fresh, the mini games were novel and the story seemed to be moving at a fast pace, but I suppose that my desire to get all the subquests out of the way before moving on to the main story was what made me lose interest.

I see the desire to finish a game to be a sort of physics equation, where a game’s positives are an accelerating force, and its detriments are friction. In the case of games that I finish, they’re either short enough to the point where the friction doesn’t matter, or their positives are strong enough to the point where the friction is weaker than the driving force. In the case of Judgement, its detriments were ubiquitous in the game’s core gameplay: weak combat, tedium of running from point A to point B in Kamurocho and a feeling of having to do too many things, all of them being the same and frankly not that fun, all of these combined to make a very strong frictional force, one that the thrust of the story just couldn’t outlast.

Resident Evil 2: Remake — Finished, not perfected

Resident Evil 2: Remake is another one of those niche titles that I’m very happy exists and did well. Everything about the game shows both a reverence for the all time classic RE2 while understanding that the gaming landscape has changed a lot since then.

I genuinely admire how they handled the shift from fixed camera angles and tank controls to 3rd person controls (which are still tank controls, by the way). By choosing to make the game very dark, and giving you a decent, but not incredible flashlight, they force the player’s field of vision to be narrow, much in the same way that the original RE2 was. It also allowed the developers to set up scares, knowing the player will be facing a certain angle in a certain corridor.

Many people criticised the ultra-durable zombies this game had, but, again, this was made in a desire to replicate the sensation of dealing with the zombies in the original RE2. Zombies in the original game were a serious threat, and while they weren’t nearly as bad as the zombies of RE1, they posed major obstacles, ones that were hard to kill and harder to find your way around. The decision to make the zombies very durable made the zombies a huge threat, and it forced the player to be resourceful with their supplies, something which simply would not happen if a single headshot from a 9mm would take one out.

Obviously we can’t forget Mr. X either, who is easily the best persistent threat in gaming since the xenomorph in Alien Isolation. The sensation of being pursued by such a dreadnought elevated the game to easily be one of the most intense games I’ve played in a while.

Remaking an old title with modern technology, for a modern audience, with a different gameplay style is no easy feat, and the compromises that were made when creating this title were brilliant and courageous and worked out for the best.

In the process of playing this game, I’ve learned some things about myself as a gamer. I’ve learned that the true fear for me isn’t the fear of being confronted by monsters in a game, it’s being unprepared for such encounters, as such, I could never muster the courage to truly complete this game, beating it at a fast enough time with few saves to get the best score possible. Nevertheless, my time with this game was greatly enjoyed.

Astral Chain — Status: Abandoned

A true juxtaposition of a game, Astral Chain takes place in a gorgeous, unique cyberpunk city, with a cool UI and a diverse cast, while being kneecapped by horrible technical issues and annoying decisions.

There’s no going around this, Astral Chain was done a grave injustice by being a Switch exclusive. The console simply cannot handle this game’s graphics, severely limiting your field of vision and running at an unstable 30 FPS. These issues combined with the camera in general being AWFUL, resulting in a gameplay experience that left me frustrated and annoyed.

This is without talking about the gameplay, which is a mishmash of previous Platinum games in a way. You’ve got the standard Bayonetta style dodges, except instead of witch time you now get to have a counter attack (which doesn’t leave you invulnerable, bafflingly), you’ve got an unnecessary addition of skill trees that lock you out of more moves, and develop independently on each of your five legions, resulting in character growth which feels slow and stifled.

The legions themselves just feel off to me, they’re just something that never clicked with me. There’s nice mechanics, like the perfect call, which grants you limited i-frames if you summon your legion at the perfect moment, and the lasso, which allows you to temporarily stun enemies, but the legions just felt mechanically shallow. In the end of the day they’re like a second player that’s leashed to you, and does autoattacks while you occasionally have to press a button to make them do something cool. I will concede that maybe I’m like a bad game reviewer here, judging a game before I finished it. Having reached chapter 6 or so and having unlocked all the legions and their various mechanics, I just lost interest and failed to see the appeal.

The amount of praise this game received kind of baffles me. I feel like the problem is with me here, but I’ve also seen a large amount of people raising the same issues I did, so maybe this is just a case of people being desperate for another good Platinum game? Who knows.

Noita — Status: One completion, 100 or so deaths

Noita is a 2D roguelike, in the vein of Spelunky, where your goal is the continual descent inside a mountain. The game has over a dozen different biomes, is brutally difficult and is chock full of meaningful player choices.

This game is the epitome of the mindset of losing is fun. Where some roguelikes will have you die slow deaths of painful attrition, Noita prefers the fast and brutal deaths. It’s a game where every character, yourself included, wields deadly powers.

It’s also a game where deadly powers have a tendency to, in the wrong hands, blow up in your face. The amount of times I’ve gotten myself killed due to a stupid misuse of a lightning bolt, or not paying attention to where my acid balls were headed, is just enormous. You are truly your own greatest threat in this game, one poor click of a button and you could blow your body apart by a magic missile, get hit in the head by your own saw blade, get obliterated by a bomb, electrocuted by a lighting bolt or just find yourself in a corner being ambushed by a dozen enemies. The list goes on and on, and it never stops being a moment of hilarity and frustration when you meet your end. Mostly hilarity, though,

Noita is probably the greatest roguelike I’ve ever played, and it’s all thanks to the wonderful wand editing mechanic. The ability to create your own wands allows for the player to create weapons of absolute destruction. The true appeal of this game, the thing which keeps you coming back over and over again, is all about this. You can’t wait to see what tools the game will hand you and what awesome, monstrous wands you can make.

For example, in my latest run at the moment of writing this, I found a wand which casts a lot of “chainsaw” spells rapidly. What this meant is that I had a wand which allowed me to not only dig downwards easily, it also ripped apart any enemy which dared to come near me, which they often do. At some point, I decided to pick up a perk, which you can do between every biome you descend, that grants me “extra enemy knockback”. Great, I thought, now my chainsaws will either kill the enemy, or push them back so that I’m safe!

However, what I failed to realise, is that extra enemy knockback means extra recoil, and now my chainsaw has turned into a poorly controlling jetpack, and has been rendered completely worthless as a result.

My run ended in my quick demise, as I flew face first into an explosion of liquid nitrogen.

I can’t wait to see what my next run entails.

Sekiro — Status: Completed, barely

I genuinely feel bad for Sekiro. Had it come out at a different time, maybe even a few months later, my memory of it would be much fonder. However, having played the game the same month that I did DMC5 gave me the means by which I could examine Sekiro’s flaws, and boy oh boy did they shine brightly.

If I had to start with the game’s positives, I’d start with acknowledging that movement feels great in this game. Traversal is fluid and full of cool things to find. I’m very happy to have seen that From Software finally opted to add verticality to the Soulslikes, and I hope they keep it in The Elden Ring. The setting, while not particularly great, had some fantastic locations, especially towards the end.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, this game’s combat is just NOT SATISFYING, and the problem stems from the core gameplay mechanic of the posture meter. Most games would have you simply do damage to the enemy when you land a hit, but in Sekiro’s case, the damage is second to the posture meter, which is drained by landing unblocked hits as well as perfectly blocking enemy hits. This boils down to a game where most of the time you’re on the defensive, except not in an interesting way, like The Wonderful 101, where being on the defensive means you’ll have to use a lot of different tools. Not like in Devil May Cry 5 either, where being on the defensive means you have the option of guarding the attack, parrying it, dodging it or simply moving out of the way. No, most of the time your finger will be firmly placed on the L1 button, almost spamming it, just so you could get that posture meter damage.

I’d say the worst example of just how bad this gets is with the Ghost Corrupted Monk boss fight. A boss which doesn’t really seem to take damage despite you obviously landing blows on it. It’s a bullet (sword?) sponge that takes way too long to kill despite supposedly being a weaker version of the same boss you fight later on.

Sekiro’s combat feels like if you removed dodge rolling from Souls combat and forced players to use the parrying dagger and only the parrying dagger, except whenever you land a successful parry, you don’t get to do a satisfying riposte, and instead are given a small, successful hit.

This is without mentioning the lame enemy design, which sees you fighting against humans for most of the game, giving me Dark Souls 2 flashbacks.

I left this game feeling very unsatisfied.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate — Status: Abandoned for the sake of my sanity

Smash Bros seemed, at first glance, to be a great entry point to the fighting game universe. It seemed to be very accessible, with characters I like and a move list which doesn’t require me to input difficult button combinations. It was all those things, but that doesn’t stop it from being a difficult game, and that doesn’t stop the feeling of impotent rage I felt whenever I would lose to some anime swordie.

I’ve been playing online games for a long time, I’ve never been a particularly good gamer but I had a decent enough skill level, having reached 5K MMR back in the day in Dota 2, and spending many hours in TF2 and L4D. I’ve known my share of anger and frustration at online gaming, but nothing, nothing, could prepare me for the anger I felt while playing smash online. It’s a mix of several factors.

It started off with horribly unlikeable characters, particularly fire emblem sword users, who I picked to be my scapegoat. Whenever I encountered one I instantly felt my anger levels rising, I just don’t like fire emblem, and I doubly dislike their numerous entrants in Ultimate.

It culminated with uncomfortable controls, such as not having a button to toggle running and walking, which led me to use c-stick tilts, aka flicking the right analog stick to output directional attacks, seeing as I could never control my left analog enough to output directional attacks consistently. This method never worked properly for me, and I suspect it was because of online netcode, which brings me to my last point.

The netcode ranged from great (surprisingly enough when playing my friends from North America I ran into no issues) to god awful, to fluctuating between the two on a whim.

In the end of the day, however, it’s all on me. I am just not cut out to be a fighting game player, I wasn’t 10 years ago and I certainly am not now that I’ve reached my 30s. Perhaps, upon reflecting, this rage is a result of my knowledge that I am the one that’s screwing up. Me and nobody else. I suppose it’s why I gravitate towards either team based, or cooperative games nowadays more than solo, competitive experiences. Perhaps a friendly competition of who is the best among peers is a lot more enjoyable than a binary state of either being the winner or the loser.

Outer Wilds — Status: Abandoned

Yet another one of those games that I’m happy exists moreso than I enjoyed it completely. This game is brilliant, but I feel that though its opening hours are incredible, it lacks some quality of life tools that would allow you to feel like you’re making some genuine progress.

I don’t want to spoil too much about this game, but the game works in a time loop, and takes place in a miniature solar system, with tiny planets orbiting a sun, and you’ve got a space ship that you can use the traverse said planets, to uncover some ancient civilization’s last hopes.

As I mentioned, the opening hours are fantastic, but once the explosion of discovery dies down, you’ve seen most there is to see and you’re now in the investigative mode, the game’s friction starts kicking up. Discovering some hidden city in a cave, after locating the cave to begin with and traversing mildly challenging platforms is fascinating. For the first time. After the third attempt of reaching that city when you realised you missed something, unclear as that is, you start to lose your patience. After the fifth time, you just give up altogether.

I feel the game needed a bit of streamlining, ensuring that your subsequent cycles benefit from your previous ones in more tangible ways. Like knowing passwords to doors that allow you easy access to difficult spots, or some hidden portals that show up in your map after you discover them for the first time.

Despite my gripes, I still think it’s a great game, and it’s going to be a cult classic a few years down the line.

Deep Rock Galactic — Status: Ongoing (Multiplayer)

Finally, to end on a positive note, I want to comment on this game. It’s a surprisingly ambitious and polished indie title. Setting out to make a grapple line between Minecraft and Alien Swarm, it’s a combination that works really well.

You and your three friends set out to complete various mission objectives, in various biomes, playing one of four character classes, each having a healthy dose of customization.

What really drives this game’s appeal to me is the captivating spelunking you do within. Each location you enter is procedurally generated, with mineral veins you need to dig out, all while traversing brutally dark environments. It’s here, that the game’s most brilliant design decision comes through.

Each player gets 4 throwable glowsticks. These sticks regenerate over time, and emit a satisfying amount of light, but they go dark after a set amount of time. Even after the light has gone out, however, they continue to retain a very faint glow, and they persist on the ground for the rest of the mission. What this does is:

  1. Use light as a limited resource. You’ve got a headlight but it’s frankly kind of worthless. You have to use glowsticks, especially during one of the game’s many “swarm” moments where you’re getting, well, swarmed by enemies
  2. Allow you to know where you’ve been. Throwing a glowstick down a cavern functions as both a light source and a breadcrumb trail and
  3. Also allows you to know who’s been where, due to each stick thrown having the color of the player that threw it.

I really like this game, and I hope it retains its popularity, it’s a genuinely creative, fun game. It keeps you going with a nice and sharp difficulty curve.

Upon reflecting on this year, I feel pretty positive about my completion record, and gaming as a whole. There have been big budget and small budget, eastern and western, action and not so much games that all managed to captivate me in some way, as well as several games which surprised me by failing to do so.

Looking forward to 2020, I really hope this trend continues, and I hope that the 9th generation will continue the very positive changes we’ve seen in the industry in the past few years.

Thanks for reading!

I love gaming, and I hope I have something to add to the massive gaming critique landscape

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