Ho Boy…. Game of the year for 2020...This is going to be difficult. This year was unlike any other year any of us have seen… but I’m only talking about gaming. With this year, we finally got the first new consoles in the past seven years. Back in 2013, we got the PS4 and Xbox One, both of which were terribly underpowered even on launch day compared to PC counterparts. Especially with the Xbox One and its disastrous Online Only DRM that caused such an outrage, Microsoft completely backtracked, and rebuilt the OS to work offline in the months leading up to launch. It even couldn’t do 1080p, landing at 900p for games out of the gate. Still, most PS4 and Xbox One games only could do 30 frames per second still too.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X seem like much more complete and competent consoles out of the box compared to the last time, but sadly, they are so hard to come by, that I wasn’t able to get ahold of either of them through pre-orders, and now with them being out for a couple weeks, still unable to purchase them and it seems like it’ll be that way for a while. But that really isn’t even that big of a deal, as so many games this year were delayed to the next year, and the launch titles of both systems are extremely lacking, even compared to previous Console Launches. So even if I did have new consoles to play with, nothing really that spectacular is on them, so I don’t really feel as bummed out about missing out as I would have if it was like the Xbox 360 or PS3 or PS4 launch.
This year I played as many games that I could that actually came out this year, and with everything that happened, every major world event being canceled, and every major game receiving major delays, there really wasn’t that much to play. Here is the list of a very mediocre year in gaming for me, and out of the paltry sum of games to play, here are my favorites in reversed order from least favorite, to most favorite, with some Honorable Mentions sprinkled in at the beginning.
- Resident Evil 3: REmake
- Assemble With Care
10. Old Gods Rising
9. Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity
7. Mafia Definitive Edition (2020)
6. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remake
5. Moving Out
4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
3. Black Mesa
2. Half-Life: Alyx
1. Streets of Rage 4
My Honorable Mentions are basically just a few games that I played to completion that I liked, but didn’t make a huge impact on me. They were good, but just not great
A solid little horror platformer, that overstayed its welcome by about an hour and a half.
Resident Evil 3 REMake
Too short for it to be worth full retail price, and not enough draw for me to replay through it multiple times to unlock more weapons.
- Distinct artstyle; difty, grungy and hazy, making me feel like I was on drugs… a more upbeat and lazy Hotline Miami vibe
Assemble with Care
- A sweet, small little story about a girl traveling abroad and fixing other people’s things… and relationships.
Now for the real list!
Games Of The Year 2020
10. Old Gods Rising
Old Gods Rising came out in the middle of the year and I only paid attention to it because of the Developer posted on Reddit about the game being released that day and he mentioned that he was part of the team that worked on Bioshock. That held a lot of weight for me, as I hold the Bioshock series in extremely high regard. After watching a quick trailer I was pretty much sold on that fact alone, along with this year having barely any releases coming out.
What I got was a very eerie “walking simulator”, which is a term I really hate. It distills the whole game into a very non descriptive category. Yes, you mainly walk around, but you are soaking up the environment and atmosphere and story. You control a man who at one time was a well respected scientist, but as of late, has been ridiculed in the media for going on wild goose chase theories. The college down the road is on vacation, and currently being used as a location for a new film. The director wants you to come down and offer your expertise as a consultant. When you show up, you can’t find a single person around, even if all the film equipment and trailers are there. The director is running a bit late from a secondary location and leaves a walkie talkie for you so you can talk while they wrap up filming at the other filming location.
While waiting around, the director tells you to go off and walk around the college campus and find a few spots that have some really unique rock formations and use your knowledge to see if it would be accurate enough to use in the film.
That’s where you’d want to stop reading if you are interested in this game. It’s only a couple hours long, and the game picks up pace from there. So here is the SPOILER WARNING!!!
As you walk through the empty campus, you get an odd feeling that something isn’t right, not a single person is here. No one is watching any equipment. As you walk around and explore, there is many little things that give off a totally weird vibe and showcase this game’s well done environmental story telling. Each time you think you know what is going on, you find another weird trail keeps you moving on to another place to sidetrack you.
The game ends as you realize that there is a cult that is trying to resurrect the Lovecraftian Old Gods like Cthulhu to reign over the earth. You end up talking to the Director’s Assistant who tells you to collect some keys to help lock the creature away before the Blood Moon rises, or something like that, and when you do, you realize the whole movie, the director, the assistant was all in on it and was just a ploy to get you to get all the ancient keys to help UNLOCK the monster’s tomb. Even your girlfriend is just using you. The game ends with a very odd, abrupt ending that makes you question if it was all real or fake. But a few months later, there was some free DLC that continued the game right after the ending. It wasn’t good enough for me to finish, but I did appreciate that there was an effort to try something a bit different, going with a more FPS type of gameplay style in the aftermath of the Old God wreaking havoc on the earth.
Any other year, this wouldn’t have been a contender in my game of the year, but which the paltry few games that did come out, this, while very unpolished in certain spots, did something interesting. Told a really fun story. Had a great premise and kept me intrigued and pulled in the entire way through without feeling like it was meandering in it’s storytelling. The level design and atmosphere of wandering a completely empty college/film location was fun, all the while being a bit creepy and eerie at the same time. I’m totally ready for the next game from this little studio and excited to see what they do from here.
9. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
I did not see this coming at all. I rarely even use my Switch to begin with, and with what I assumed was a throw away series with Hyrule Warriors being just a reskinned Dynasty Warriors game, I didn’t even give this game a second thought. Then when I heard about it a couple days before release, it was getting so much attention from Gaming Media sites, that I ended up reading a couple paragraphs and got excited. I knew it wasn’t Breath Of The Wild 2, but seeing the game take place fully in the Breath Of The Wild universe, with all the same characters, I was initially intrigued enough to download it and give it a try.
I was immediately hooked right from the get go. It was a new type of gameplay I haven’t played in years, and the levels being so vast and large and long, it rarely got boring as I racked up hundreds in not thousands of bokoblin deaths. Saying this is just a Dynasty Warriors rip off is a huge disservice to the game that feels really well crafted and lovingly rendered in the Breath Of The Wild universe. It definitely isn’t Breath of the Wild 2, nor does it look as clean and polished. Even my wife Elizabeth took a few moments to look at the game, and commented on it looking was less impressive than the original game that came out as a launch day game back in 2017.
While the game may not be a graphical powerhouse, or even a technical marvel, as the game definitely does slow down and cause some severe frame rate issues while in bigger battles with explosions and fire, it still is a fun experience. You can’t get caught up on all the technical issues or numbers not being met by the Switches inferior hardware, you’ll get bummed out everytime. The Switch is just a very underpowered machine, but it makes up for what it lacks in technical prowess with development teams that work around those limitations and make something that works with what the flaws are, and turns them into positives.
Age of Calamity is basically a prequel to Breath of the Wild. It follows Link, hanging out with Zelda, as they gather the Champions together, and try to stop Calamity Ganon taking over. We know what eventually happens, as from the very start of Breath of the Wild shows us Calamity Ganon has taken over and rules the land. Getting the backstory of some of the Champions, and seeing Zelda and her dad, King Rahom spend time discussing how to stop Ganon, and how Zelda’s powers haven’t fully manifested, while Link helps out where he can is great. The Zelda games never really have has amazing stories, and they often repeat the same major plot points. Changing the names of the characters, but usually always having the same species show up, and being side characters to the main story progression. Which here still remains mostly intact, but there is something nice with having the story handed off to a “B-Team” of sorts, who interject the game with some new blood.
While the game isn’t exactly open world, it’s levels can be quite large, with some taking over half an hour just to beat. Each mission is picked from a map screen. Scrolling along the map to specific locations that have a single quest to be completed. As you make your way through the story, smaller missions that require a certain character, or special tool is unlocked for you to complete. The story missions are usually the longest ones, taking 20-45 minutes on average to play through, although you could easily spend more time taking out every enemy, and exploring a bit to find hidden Korok’s around the various nooks and crannies of the level. Some of the selectable missions can be a single tiny area, or training mission that might only take a minute or two to complete.
Even the Champions have their own missions to conquer, where you must control them specifically. This tends to upgrade them quite a bit and is really helpful, but being forced to play as another character is really never very much fun for me, as I’d rather just play as Link. Also as you finish levels, you’ll be granted many MANY weapons that have small stat boosts, or buffs and debuffs. These are supposed be be used at a blacksmith who will combine and fuse these weapons to each other to make them stronger, but this requires time that could be spent better elsewhere, so I just tended to stick with a single weapon, and feed every other weapon to it, to make it ultra powerful. I just never have been a fan of the feeding one weapon to another mechanic, like in Collectable Card Games. 99% of the time, it’s just a waste of time
While you defeat enemies, you will pick up plenty of food and objects that just go into your inventory. When you get back to the main map menu, you are able to find side quests that ask you to turn in specific items you have picked up along your battles, and depositing them into the quest, will result in some special items, weapons, or even unlocking new moves or heart containers.
Initially when the game started, and the map unlocked a smattering of missions, I intended to do them all. Every. Single. One. and I kept that up for around thirteen hours. But I realized that the game isn’t meant to be like that, because there is a point where you can’t finish certain quests until you find a certain amount of items, which don’t unlock till later in the game. This bummed me out, because I was intending to do a completionist run of this games, as I was just having an absolute blast, but then I realized that it’d just take too long and I also had to progress the story at some point too. Once I completed a story mission, the map screen would then unlock more missions, some main, some small, some just stores…. And this unlocking sequence sometimes took over a minute to complete, and it was just devastating. Seeing how many more things I had to do and complete just mentaly broke me a bit.
I quickly decided to just main line the stroy mode, and finish it up. But even that got quickly deterred because of life. House Hunting in real live took main priority, and I put my switch to sleep for over two weeks instead of playing games and traveling back and forth cross country.
Another game this year, that wasn’t on my radar at first. I have always been interested in the Spintires series since it came out. But knowing that they are more simulation games, and offer the unique mechanical challenge of “get yourself stuck, then get yourself out” seemed a tad overwhelming. I wanted to play it, but I also didn’t want to drop cash on a game I’d play for about 15 minutes and never pick up again.
SnowRunner came out right as everyone was starting to work from home, and I was out traveling. I knew I wouldn’t have much time to play, but I really wanted to just TRY it. So I downloaded a copy of it, and tried it out. I was more or less blown away by the fact that the game had a kinda “story mode” where you are a faceless nameless character that is helping out this small town deliver goods to rebuild their bridge. Then as you do that, there is a map with unlockable points and various objectives to find and discover.
It was right up my alley! There was a clear cut objectives, and it was just wander around the map with nothing to do. I quickly set out to find all the towers to unlock the “Fog Of War” on the map screen and see more things to do. Once I traveled around the map, unlocking everything, I picked a single objective and set out to do it. At first it was very small stuff, like get this car out of the mud, or drive here and drop this thing off. Or pick up a trailer, fill it and bring it back. While doing these objectives, I noticed that my original little pickup truck was having a harder and harder time getting through some of the very rough terrain. So I set off in search of a new car or two. I found out, that most of the trucks were unlocked by finding them hidden throughout the map, or in missions. Then to be able to unlock them, you have to get them unstuck and tow them back to your garage.
The cars/trucks/big rigs all have some heavy weight to them, which gives it that characteristic simulation game vibe. Getting stuck is inevitable in the game. The terrain is sometimes deceptively deep, while looking like a tiny river or small patch of snow, and a huge 4x4 truck can quickly become engulfed so much that you’d swear you were in quicksand. The saving grace is your wonderful powered winch attached to your front bumper, that gives you extra pulling power in addition to your truck’s four or all wheel drive. Just tapping the Winch button will quickly and automatically attach the winch to the nearest object. But if you stop and manually use the winch, you can select what you want to attach it to. Usually it’s just trees, to get you out from being stuck. But when you are dealing with towing other cars, you can select it to a specific side of the car or bumper, allowing you to maneuver easier through the mess of mud, snow and forests of trees.
Finding a H2 Hummer, a car I own in real life was especially exciting, and just really fun to drive around. The thing is a tank, and with money you earn by completing objectives, you can upgrade your car. You can also find upgrade parts hidden throughout the levels as well, but tracking them down is more just stumbling upon them while exploring.
Upgrading is essential, as you can upgrade your engine, your transmission and tires to combat the terrain. Learning which transmission upgrade to use was really important as the right power ratio will help or hurt in certain areas. Same with tires, I always tried to get the best ones I could afford/unlock, but having most of the top of the line tires locked away behind finding the parts in the game’s map always stopped me.
While the first level takes place in an Autumn soaked Michigan after a severe storm, I was baffled why the game was called “SnowRunner”. The second map you quickly unlock takes place in Alaska, where the terrain is brutally tough and you really have to plan everything out. Which car to take, which engine and tires to use, and even if you have enough gas. Gasoline quickly became the game’s “Timer” for me, as it puts an arbitrary limit on what you can do, and how far you can go. Luckily there are upgrades you can find, to bring along more gas tanks, or if you aren’t stuck, there are gas stations you can stop off and refill. One really cool thing was finding other stuck or abandoned vehicles and syphoning their tanks to fill your’s to make it back to a station. Or finding a gas tank truck and just using that to fill up whenever you needed.
All in all, SnowRunner is a game that I’ll never fully complete. I’ll never see “Credits” on the game, as it’s just too big, and requires just too much time. I already dumped over 50 hours into it, and only have spent time in the first two maps. There are three others, and DLC as well. It’s just not going to happen. But for the time that I spent with it, especially as I was playing this game, and driving across the country back and forth in real life in my Hummer, I was fully immersed in cars and car games for a bit. It’s a game that will only appeal to a certain type of person, it’s not an action game, it's not a racing game, it features cars, but is painfully slow at times, and more often than not, getting stuck can be the ultimate frustration. But whenever I load up the game, I get sucked into it’s world, and all I want to do is drive around in the snow and tow cars out from being stuck.
7. Mafia: Definitive Edition
Let’s get this out of the way first. Mafia: Definitive Edition is
1. An astonishingly bad title.
2. A full ground up remake of a game from 2002.
Now that has been settled, this was another last minute purchase for me this year. Thanks to not hearing about it till the day or two before it was released, and also seeing some positive mentions about it on gaming sites, I decided to take a chance on it. I never played Mafia 1 or 2, but did end up loving Mafia 3 a lot, thanks to the period piece game set in 1960’s New Orleans.
Even though this is a ground up remake of a 18 year old game, it stays very faithful to the game the whole way through. There are minor adjustments to the story, with some dialog and motivations for the characters, but from what I could tell after finishing the game and doing a little bit of research, I found those changes to be totally fine and kept the same feeling throughout the game. Small things like a character smuggling cocaine instead of booze, or someone using a baseball bat instead of a knife.
The graphics are stunning, and some of the best coming out right now, with beautiful shimmering pavement after it rains, or during the slow walk with your girlfriend down an orange colored sky peaking through the buildings in New York. Every screenshot of the game can be used as a desktop wallpaper.
You play as Tommy, a taxi driver who falls into a random encounter helping a couple mobsters. They say they owe you, and you quickly end up working for the mob. It’s good enough pay to continue doing it, and Tommy starts working his way up to become the number 2 guy for the Don. Now in 2020, this is a cliche story, that you see all the twists and turns coming from a mile away, but back then, the Sopranos were still on the air, and it wasn’t a story you’d seen all that often, especially in video games.
The mission structure and gameplay is nothing new, but it’s refined. Everything flows together really well, and the period actuate town and cars and even radio transmissions all accumulate into a just wonderful gaming experience. The development team, Hangar 13 really outdid themselves with being tasked with remaking an old forgotten game, and bringing it into their newly built engine to complete all three games as “The Mafia Trilogy” and “Definitive Editions” combined with all the DLC and remastered graphical textures.
One thing that stood out to me, while playing was the sound design and the attention to the accuracy of sounds in a cutscene. There was a scene where your mob friend, the guy who has all the guns and weapons, gives you some baseball bats to mess a guy up and “Send a message”. He pulls a few new louisville sluggers out and puts them on the table. In any other cutscene, you probably wouldn’t even hear the bats, but in Mafia, the wood clangs together with that hollow wooden sound. As he places them on the table, you hear them roll around on the top of the wooden surface. You even hear the small wiping of his fingers going against the grain of the wood as he rubs his fingers over the bat. It’s those small attention to details that really elevate the game to something more than just “another remake”.
The open world of the game wasn’t really used well though, as the driving just takes you from mission to mission, and could have been done through a menu in the worst of cases. The open world wasn’t really interesting enough nor useful enough to ever actually venture out and explore, but it was there all the same. Apparently this is kinda a new thing, as the original game didn’t allow you to explore the city at all until you finished the game and was able to go into a separate other mode from the main menu to drive around a big empty city.
This game is dripping with atmosphere, and “Moments”. Little things like the radio I mentioned earlier, where they talk about the current president of the time commenting on world events like the rise of Germany and Hitler coming into power. Or even full levels, my favorite being a stormy night setting taking place in the country-side on an abandon farm. The rain and lightning really highlight the atmospheric polish that Hangar 13 put into the game. Especially after going to a YouTube play through of the original and just seeing how much the level design was the same, but just more fully fleshed out and again, just soaked in an more eerie feeling atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re watching a horror movie.
While the game felt relatively short, clocking in at around 9.5 hours to complete, but offered so much enjoyment, especially when it was only $40 to begin with. Everything from the updated cutscenes, the gunplay, level design and art direction makes this one of the best remakes I’ve ever played. You can see the love that went into this remake, which makes it all the more enjoyable to play.
6. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
Although I decided to revisit the series earlier in the year, before the remake was even announced, I was still totally on board with them remaking the game. I have always loved the Tony Hawk series, even some of the more critically disliked, such as Project 8. The Tony Hawk games hold a really special place in my heart, as it got me super into skating during my Jr. High and High School days. With the release of the Demo on PS1, before the game came out, my friend Andrew and I played that disc till it practically wore out.
I will take a moment to recognize that I might have had a little harder of a time completing the objectives if I didn’t already fully 100% complete the original games, but most of them are straight forward enough on their own that it’s really not an issue either way.
Getting a full remake treatment, with updated level design was wonderful, which is really the shining point of this remake. It doesn’t do what is expected of it, and only that. They went above and beyond and gave a bit more of a story to the game’s levels, by that, I mean they took the core levels from the original, fleshed them out in a much higher resolution space, and put them into the current year. The mall is a great example of this. Back when the original game came out in 1999, Malls were still booming, now they are all but a forgotten memory for most, so seeing the Mall level beat up and abandoned like it would probably look now, is just a really interesting treat to see.
The same can be said for the skaters themselves. You get all the classics from the first two games, but they are all their current 2020 versions, with all the scars and wrinkles that go along with age and skating. It’s a great way to make the game feel both familiar and also current and fresh. Also including new current skaters that I’ve never heard of was a great choice, as I still like skating and watching these insanely talented people do things in real life that seem impossible.
The game is a pure remake at its heart though, so if you have played the first two games, you know what to expect. The addition of new objective for the first game, which the two games are split into “Tours” make it a bit more interesting, as you get something new to do, as well as a hidden collectable to grab in each level. But that only goes so far, as it’s basically just a collectable, and even the new objective are just collect X amount of things per level. Even though these games have had multiple remakes, from the Tony Hawk 2X on the original Xbox, to the mostly hated Tony HD on 360, they nailed the physics, which was the biggest breath holding moment for most. As soon as word got out that the game “felt right”, pretty much everyone piled on and grabbed a copy.
While they did include movesets from Tony 3 and 4 as well, just to give you more moves out of the gate, I am excited for the inevitable remake of 3 and 4 even if I dislike 3’s levels the most out of the original 4 games. Another great remake to add to, not just this year, but in general. These are how you do remakes, lovingly crafted by fans, for fans. Taking the time to get it “right” and allowing both new and old to coexist together.
5. Moving Out
My wife and I love playing games, and even better when we can play them together in a co-operative state. Couch Co-Op was something of a by-gone era with the 360 and online play becoming the norm. But in the last few years, we have gotten a resurgence of Couch Co-Op games, mostly thanks to the Indie Dev scene. Smaller games, built by independent developers who make much smaller games, focusing on cooperative play on the same screen. Overcooked was a standout for this a few years ago, and now Moving Out has come along with a similar art style and feeling.
Moving Out is a game where you and another player are part of a moving company, and you are tasked with moving furniture out of client’s houses and into your moving truck. But as with Overcooked, it’s plastered in a silly veniere that you aren’t concerned with bumping corners or breaking things, the goal is to get everything in the van as fast as possible. Breaking windows, tossing sofas out of three story windows, and surfing a TV down a snow covered hill is the optimum way to beat the ever increasing timer.
With most games, I hate timers and doing things over again, just for some arbitrary quicker time, but just as with Overcooked, it was what kept Elizabeth and I retrying levels over and over again, to get the best time possible. The addition of hidden objectives too, was a great way to add a bit more to the game and keep us entertained for hours.
We had a blast figuring out the best paths in and out of buildings, what items should be taken first and which ones to save for last. The hazards and various other things getting in your way never felt frustrating and only kept the game challenging without feeling unfair. It’s one of the most perfect co-op games I can imagine, as the single goal can be accomplished together, taking everything in a pair, or splitting up and going off on your own to see if that cuts the time down even further.
4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
When the first Ori game, Ori and The Blind Forest came out in 2015, I was blown away by how incredibly beautiful it looked, and I jumped at the chance to play the PC version when it came out a year or so later. I wanted so badly to like it, but after loading it up, and playing the intro part, and getting through that depressing intro, all the wind in my sails was gone… I just didn’t want to play a depressing game. I always intended to come back to it, but I just didn’t for several years, then hearing that the new game was coming out, I thought that I might try it again. Good thing I did, because I blew through the game in around 8.5 hours, a solid day or two of playing and finishing it the day that Will of the Wisps came out.
Loading up the sequel to a game, right after I finished the first game, is something that sticks with me, another time that happened was both beating Kingdom Hearts 1 right before Kingdom Hearts 2 came out with my sister, or when God of War 2 came out, and I beat the first game a few days before the second was released. So this already had me excited.
Ori takes the formula from the first game, a tough but fair platformer and cranks it up to eleven. The hand painted visuals all look better somehow and the platforming feels tighter. Even if they swap out the main projectile combat with melee, it still works and even adds a new layer of thought and patience to combat.
It feels like the Development team took to heart the issues most people had with the first game, as the trial and error parts of escaping the boss levels are completely gone. Nothing feels unfair or like a wasted opportunity.
While the story felt a bit too familiar and used too much of the same plot as the first game, expanding upon why the bad guy was doing what they did, it earned its reasoning, and while the ending is not my particular favorite way of ending a game like this, it ties together well.
3. Black Mesa
I don’t even know how to classify this game. It’s a fan game, and a remake of someone else’s IP. The scope of this game is so large that it blows the original out of the water, and is so fully dedicated to making it the best and most definitive version of Half-Life, while expanding upon it too.. Since we all know Valve won’t.
Black Mesa is another ground up remake of a old game… how old? Oh about 21 years old. Back in 1999 Half-Life released on PC and well, you know the rest, it’s a staple of not just PC gaming, but gaming in general, as it launched Valve into the stratosphere of world wide acclaimed developers, and with the popularity mods were sidelauched, like Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat and countless others. I remember when I got my own personal computer back in 1998 that I could use to play any game I wanted to, and when Half-Life came out, I quickly tried to play it, not really understanding how computers still worked and the need for dedicated graphics cards. So I was able to play the game until the first big explosion… like 15 minutes into the game… then the frame rate tanked to the single digits.
That was it for me with Half-Life, even after my friend Andrew kept playing it at his house and I’d watch him on his family computer. It looked like an amazing game, but when I found out about the more creepy aspects of the game, the head crab zombies, the aliens… I kinda lost a lot of interest. I never have been a fan of zombie games, or horror games, or anything dealing with Aliens… it’s just not my bag baby.
So as I quickly forgot about Half-Life one, 2 came out and I played that, and the episode 1 and 2 and every other iteration of Valve’s catalog of Half-Life universe games…. But never going back to the original. Until Black Mesa.
At this point, I think it’s fair to just call Black Mesa a full 100% official remake of Half-Life, heck even Valve themselves signed off on it, because again, we know they couldn’t be bothered with it themselves. So some fans stepped in and did it for them. And they deserve all the accolades of making a faithful remake of a universally praised classic. Sure some things are changed, and updated, as with all the other games on this list, that’s what should be expected from a remake. You don’t want a shot for shot perfect remake of something. Look at the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, it’s so perfectly replicating the original, that it’s not even it’s own movie, why bother?
Black Mesa takes certain liberties, most of which I couldn’t tell you, because like I said, I never finished the original Half-Life, and I don’t know if I ever will at this point, because I played what I believe is a superior version with Black Mesa. It’s using an modern updated engine, has much better graphics than any mod could throw into the original, and with a much better controls scheme made for both Keyboard/Mouse and Controller… why would I go back?
I knew most of the story and locations, not only through osmosis over the years of video game discussions and media, but also from just watching Andrew play all those years ago. I specifically remember the big tentacle monster fight, and the warehouse fight with black-ops and ninja women. What I didn’t know about was Xen… the final part of the game, and how that looked or what it played like. And this is why it took me so long to actually play Black Mesa. I waited until the game reached a 1.0 version. A fully “Done” game, and getting to that point took over 7 years as Xen was basically finished, scrapped and completely redone and extended…. Like really extended. I loved the fully build up of Black Mesa, and getting through the facility fighting aliens, humans, helicopters and all sorts of other crap… but getting to Xen was my main goal, as I didn’t want to read about it at all, and go in as blind as possible. Well….
I was not expecting that at all. At first I was blown away, I even used a screenshot of it for my review, because in all honesty it was even better what I imagined it to be. The beautiful blues swirling and mixing with purples in the cosmos skyboxes were just breathtaking. As I explored for a bit, I knew i surely must be getting to the end. Until I got to the bigger monsters, and then had a huge chase sequence that felt like it lasted a few more hours…. And then it kept going… and going and going. It wouldn’t end. And that’s where my enjoyment plummeted. Xen was just too big, it added way too much that apparently isn’t there in the final game. And the final boss fight against a giant headed baby (No Joke) just capped it off as a really dissapointing ending that soured a bit of the game. Endings have to land, well. It’s what the player takes away from the game, and if the ending sucks, a lot of that good will and fond memories are replaced with disappointment and anger.
I don’t hate Black Mesa, I don’t even dislike it. I loved it, I just disliked the ending. If they took the time to cut it off and just remake Xen the way it was in the original game, and devote their new parts of Xen to DLC, I would have much more preferred that. I know it probably wouldn’t have made sense from a story perspective, but most who are playing Black Mesa have already played Half-Life hundreds of times through and don’t care, and for those who do care and haven’t played Half-Life all the way through, like me…. It wouldn’t matter much either, as it would have stayed more faithful to the original, and that’s what I would have liked more.
That being said, I think it was a creative choice the developers took, that whether I think is right or wrong, they thought it was right, and I can’t blame them for doing what they wanted to do creatively.
2. Half-Life: Alyx
Good grief…. It’s about time. After over a literal decade, Valve finally acknowledged the Half-Life series again, and made something with the Half-Life name in it… a Prequel… something absolutely NO ONE wanted or needed. In what I can only be described as the most expensive middle finger to fans of a company ever, Valve went and made a Half-Life 1.5, instead of the obvious 3 that every one wanted.
After getting over the just bainmelting that took place trying to understand why make a prequel instead of Half-Life 3, they also went and did something most were thinking too… Make it a VR only game. Valve has been front and center of VR development since 2015 and released the second commercial VR headset, just a month after the first one. So they know VR and continue to be the leaders in VR games and tech.
Alyx takes place a few months before the events of Half-Life 2, a game I played at launch and never again. I loved it, and enjoyed it, but I just rarely ever play games a second time. Just like with Half-Life 2, Alyx upped the tech with making the game’s Gravity Gloves a new and unique way with interacting with the environment. Highlighting an object and pulling a trigger or grip, and flicking your wrist back, causing the object to fly at you is basically like using force powers… something all of us have imagined doing at one time or another in our lives. At first it feels clunky, but then becomes so second nature that you can’t imagine picking something up with your hands ever again. I guess that’s the “Valve Magic” that people talk about… The innovation of tech that is so hard to replicate, that it became the official reason why they canned the actual Half-Life 3. They just couldn’t figure out the best gimmick that people “Expected” from them after hitting lightning in a bottle with Half LIfe 2’s Gravity Gun Physics. (Which I think is a cop-out. Who cares? People would much rather you just put out something instead of secretly making the game over and over again and then throwing it away, like a writer who writes a novel, isn’t satisfied with something and then tossing it even though others would have loved it)
Alyx also has the distinct reward for being the first real “Triple A VR game”. A phrase that is so laughably lame to me that I hate even typing it. Yes, there is a distinction between well established developers and indies, and that nomenclature is totally valid, but there has to be something else we can use. Calling games Triple A just seems lame, but that really isn’t important right now. Being a Valve VR game does hold a lot of weight behind it, and did they ever throw that weight around.
Being part Horror game, with a fair amount of jump scares, thanks to dark hallways, alien worlds, jumping head crabs and zombies, it also is an action game. Gun fights in VR take on a whole new dimension, as taking cover and blind firing, or peeking around a corner means physically moving your body into those positions. Nothing really comes close to describing the feeling you get when in a shootout, ducking behind a wall, using a corner to put your gun around the side of the wall, and empty a clip blindly, hoping you clip the enemy with bullets enough times to drop him.
Another reason VR is just the bees knees is the fact that you are fully immersed in a world. The stand out moment for me in this game was the Hotel level… and old abandoned hotel building, overrun with alien moss and infected with spores. I’ve always been a huge nerd when it comes to exploring abandoned things, and seeing nature or in this case alien dimensions take over a rotted out old building, and it just fascinates me to no end. I could spend hours just walking through old derelict locations.
The added fact that this is an official Half-Life game, and seeing the aliens and other familiar characters fully realized in VR, standing beside you and staring you in the face, with a perfect 1:1 scale is just something else. It really is hard to describe, and why VR in general hasn’t fully taken off yet. It’s something you just HAVE to try yourself, but when you do, you’ll be blown away, as nothing compares to it.
- Streets Of Rage 4
This was a bit of a shocker to me. For this little indie game, an extremely late to the party sequel to a Sega Genesis series…. They had a lot to live up to. And in my opinion, being a fan of the games since they came out, being the nerd in high school driving his mini-van blasting Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack to the second game down the highways. Beating the games countless times (except the third once since the US version was stupidly difficult) and even modding the third game to include a revamped difficulty and added cut levels and more characters… I feel qualified as a “expert” of sorts.
Streets of Rage is unquestionably the king of the “Brawlers” or “Beat-em-Up” genre. Final Fight has nothing on Streets of Rage, sure Haggar is rad as a super buff mayor, but that’s literally it. The characters move like 1970’s action figures with zero articulation and look like they are full of plastic. The levels are boring and… well the list goes on. Streets of Rage is the better series. That’s really not the point.
Once Streets of Rage 3 came out, there was talks of a 4th game, but it was pushed to the Sega’s next console, Saturn, which did so bad, that it was going to then get pushed to the Dreamcast, but the Dreamcast came and died quickly and the series pretty much died with the Dreamcast. There were various rumors and even some “spiritual successors” like Fighting Force, or even fan games like Beats of Rage, but none of them captured the magic of Streets of Rage.
After so long. Somehow a team or two got together with Sega and got the rights to make a new game in the series, a numbered sequel. The day it was announced, there was a trailer, and it did not look promising. What looked like a flash animation made this look like a cheap cash in mobile game. After several delays as well, this all but was the death knell for a game that didn’t even come out yet.
I still held a small amount of hope, I was extremely cautiously optimistic, that somehow, some way this could be a good game. And the day it was released, I quickly loaded it up to see how it fared.
Streets of Rage 4, just like Tony Hawk Remake pulls the characters into modern day and ages them appropriately as well. The main stays are here, Axel and Blaze, now more mature. Axel looks like an older dad version of himself and Blaze still rocking her miniskirt feels like a chick in her 30’s still down to kick some butt. The addition of some new characters, a duo of a heavy cybernetic and a smaller lightning quick character sporting a guitar as a melee weapon round out the roster at the beginning. As you progress you can unlock more characters, some new and some old, which I thought was a great addition, as the game is fairly short.
Even if the game only takes 1.5 hours to beat, unlocking the characters provides some nice incentive to play through multiple times. As each character plays radically differently, and as a single player, I needed to switch out characters for stages. Sometimes using the Heavy as his attacks are more powerful and take out the enemies that are more deadly quicker. Sometimes using Blaze or Axel when I wanted that burst of nostalgia, like it was meeting up with some old friends, or even using Cherry as the quick Skate stand in, as she is the only one with a run, allowing me to get through a level quicker if I just wanted to get to the next stage.
The combo system also was overhauled and give some great additions, one of my favorites is not allowing the enemies to bounce out of the screen making you wait for them to come back on screen, something old-school brawlers have a huge issue with. Instead, it forces a box around the screen as an enemy moves in, and when kicked or juggled to the edge, they bounce off the side like the edge of the screen was a wall. Keeping the enemies boxed in and not allowing them to go out of bounds keeps the combat to continue to flow, and the energy of the fight up.
The soundtrack is a big talking point of a Streets of Rage game, and while not every track is done by a single composer, opting for a multiple composer collaboration, I still think it’s better than all of Streets of Rage 3’s soundtrack. I don’t think most come close to the psych up tune of Get Straight in Streets of Rage 2, but there is definitely a few that got me bobbing my head up and down without knowing while playing, and some near the end of the game that are so unbelievable that you just have to experience the ramp up of emotions as the song continues to build up to a fever pitch.
Streets of Rage 4 might not be on anyone else’s Top 10 this year, and even I don’t think it’s the best game out of this list… but just like last year’s number 1 (ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove), it’s a faithful update and sequel that shows that given the time and the right team, with people who care about the series, and isn’t just shoved out the door to make a quick buck, you can end up with a great game and a new rejuvenation to a series that can open the door for more in the future. It’s a blast to play, solid gameplay with old and new characters and settings, and takes something loved and modernizes it in a good way. When games take the quality approach, I think it’s our duty to recognize it and let the developers, and others know it’s a good game and worthy of our money. I’ll gladly play through this game multiple times when I know and can see the love and care put into it, from others who loved the series and want to see it come back again and hopefully we’ll see a Streets of Rage 5 someday too!