The inevitable 'game of the year' post.
2020 has been a hell of a year, hasn't it? It's certainly a year that I'll be happy to see in the rearview mirror of my life, that's for sure. Like yours, I'm sure, my life this year has consisted of... well, very little. One weekend in early March, I saw the writing on the wall. I had my sister-in-law give me a mohawk, stocked up on prescription medication and then locked myself away from the world with a pile of shame and several bottles of rum. Since then, I've barely left the house. I'm lucky enough to have a job that can be done remotely - in the 9 months since March, I've visited my office 3 times in total. My family being at home with me through the first lockdown caused me a new kind of frustration - one of not having a moment alone (literally, not a moment) for 3 months. Later in the year, with wife and kids out of the house I've encountered a loneliness I wasn't aware I could feel. Like Matt Dillon's character in "Singles" I've long considered myself to be a 'self-contained unit' - this year tested that perception of myself to its limit and found it wanting.
Through it all, my trusty Xbox, PS4 and Nintendo Switch have been at my side. I've seen a lot of these types of posts where people have claimed that 'videogames saved my life' this year. I can't claim that - but I definitely think they've helped to keep me sane. So, with that I offer up this - my 'game of the year' list. As usual, for me, it consists of games I've played this year rather than ones that actually released this year. The emphasis behind the list though is on pure fun. Not mechanics, or interesting narrative twists or devices, or world building exercises. These are the games that, through some pretty intense times, have managed to perform the simple miracle of making me smile. They're in no particular order.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
This was one of the last games I finished while the world was still... normal. I remember it well. I sat in a coffee shop in the middle of Coventry city centre, while my daughter shopped with her friends. I drank a caramel latte, watched the world go by, and let this little indie darling swallow me whole. I played the whole thing in one sitting, and even had a conversation with the barista about it - she saw it, asked what it was and a conversation followed. She had Mass Effect tattoos. It was just one of those pleasant little moments of the kind that used to happen all the time - to the point they barely registered - but have become impossible in the months since. Since that day, I've played through it several times more - it's basically a playable pop music record. There's nothing else really like it, and every time I go through it I spot something new. Also, the soundtrack is wonderful - especially the space-age version of Clair de Lune that pops up.
Super Mario Odyssey
Before Super Mario Odyssey, I honestly can't remember the last time I played a Mario game. I grew up with the moustachioed plumber, but somewhere along the line our paths drifted apart. I got it into my head that Mario games were for kids, or something. I was wrong. Mario games are just for people who want to play a game and have fun. Everything about Super Mario Odyssey makes me smile. It's bright, it's colourful. The music is jangly and happy. It doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. Every single character you come across just oozes that Nintendo feeling that no-one else can match. It pretty much feels like the gift of a grin on a cartridge - it's guaranteed to make me smile, and I've found myself playing quite a lot of it.
Forza Horizon 4
I've been playing Forza Horizon 4 since launch - but it forged itself a special place in my heart this year by virtue of it being based here in the UK. I found myself firing it up sometimes just to drive around and see the countryside that's normally only an hour or so from my house. It also became a bit of a social hub for me - plenty of clan gaming nights this year have been spent thrashing around in expensive cars (and usually crashing them) in the digital Britain the game offers up. Sometimes, you just need to drive and talk - and in 2020 this was the game that let that happen.
I've played a lot of Destiny this year. I got dragged back into it in June and, to be honest, I've only really slowed down on it in the past week or so. A long break from it has put Destiny in a weird and interesting place for me - the core game is familiar enough that it's like a comfort blanket, while there's enough new stuff in it for me to occasionally be reaching for Google to figure out what the hell things are for. In a year where everything has felt challenging though, Destiny has been a gaming version of a path of least resistance. It's always there, it always works, and you can always get a game. There are usually people around for me to play with if I choose, and if not then playing solo feels viable for the first time in a long time. Mostly though, it's been a place for me to hang out with my son, some long standing clan mates her in the UK, and some friends I've made on the opposite side of the Atlantic who've been kind enough to drag my ass through raids. The recent 4K/60fps patch on Series X has transformed the gunplay from 'outstanding' to 'sublime' - enough that even my little brother (the original 60fps snob, in the nicest possible way) is now playing it. Sometimes, you want maximum entertainment for minimum effort - and right now, Destiny provides it.
I'd been keeping an eye on this one ever since Noclip started putting up documentaries on the production of the game (you can find 'em here). There's a reason that this one's currently cleaning up GOTY awards - and it's simply because it's great. The way it looks, the way it plays, the way it sounds, the combat, the characters... everything. I'm yet to actually finish a run through the game, but it's starting to feel like I'm getting close. I love that each run at the game is different - different rooms, different layouts, different enemies. This one's got that 'one more go' feeling to it that can keep me engaged for far longer than it should - there's been at least one occasion where I've ended up playing this long after I should have turned it off and gone to bed.
What have you been playing this year? Is there anything on your list that you think I should play? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know! For now though, here's to the end of 2020 - and more importantly, here's to a better 2021. Happy New Year.