Video games are a pretty incredible medium, and this console generation only managed to further prove that fact. In just seven years, we’ve been met with some incredible technological advancements previously thought impossible a decade ago, and I don’t just mean graphically. Of course, it’s impressive to see side-by-side comparisons of the two Last Of Us games and remark on the amazing strides taken towards true video game realism, but more than that, this has been the generation where more and more games have started determining the language of this medium. A good video game story is beneficial, but to see so many of those stories elevated by their mechanics in ways only video games are capable of is genuinely magical to witness as it unfolds. Indie games and the middle market have seen a huge resurgence in popularity and ambition as the tech becomes more developer-friendly, while the triple AAA space has been shit and greedy as fuck, but also occasionally allowing some astonishing works of collaborative art to slip through the cracks. More than that though, it’s been so lovely to see many seemingly niche titles find their audience through the ever-expanding potential of word-of-mouth, facilitated by social media. It’s really exciting to be a fan of video games right now, and I can only imagine the next few years will be host to some certified bangers as well.
For now, however, I’d like to look back and celebrate what came before. Narrowing this list down to just fifty proved to be a genuinely difficult task because – shock horror – video games are pretty fucking cash money, but I did manage it eventually. Of course, these games don’t necessarily have to be console releases to qualify for the list since that would be dumb and arbitrary. I’m only using the 8th generation as a representative of this era of gaming, so there aren’t any hard and fast rules as to what ends up in the rankings. There’s only really a couple rules that I feel are appropriate: only one game per franchise (aside from some minor exceptions I’ll explain later), and I won’t be counting re-releases, remasters or remakes unless they change the original game significantly enough to be considered a wholly different experience. Aside from that, welcome to the Wild West, baby! Sit back and enjoy this trek down memory lane as I narrow down the best games from the past seven years of gaming, and oh what a selection it is!
50. A Plague Tale: Innocence
I don’t think it’s too callous of me to say pure linear games are something of a dying art in the triple AAA space. When modern blockbuster games aren’t simply open-world, they still tend to adopt an open-ended style of level design that allows for more exploration or, if you’re cynical, opportunities to pad out a game’s runtime. It’s quite rare these days to play a game that just sets you down atop a big glowing arrow and asks you to follow it to the best of your abilities, but I’d argue A Plague Tale: Innocence acts as something of a perfection to that formula in many ways.
Set in medieval-age France during a widespread rat plague, the story centres around Amicia, a young noble girl tasked with begrudgingly protecting her estranged younger brother Hugo as they navigate a perilous, war-torn world. I’ll admit, as premises go, it’s not exactly shifting the very foundation of video games as we understand them today, but it’s a solid foundation for the genuinely fascinating and unique world-building to grow off of. The dynamic between the two siblings is surprisingly strong and well-written, given how easy it is to make children annoying or use them as a contrived plot device, especially in video games. However, uncovering the mystery behind Hugo and his mother’s fascination with him is made more engaging because he’s initially so likeable and we want to see him come out unscathed. Adorable little exchanges between he and Amicia – seriously, every time Hugo said “ackyduck” instead of aqueduct, my heart exploded with love – are essential to the tone this game is attempting to strike, because they provide fleeting moments of hope in between the absolute despair of the world around them. This game refuses to sugarcoat the sheer bleakness of its narrative. Do not confuse this for a kids’ game because, as should be implied by the human-devouring rats, corpse-ridden battlefields and frankly rather unorthodox amount of child death, that is very much not the case.
I suppose that became the core appeal of A Plague Tale for me. It’s a game that has a particular story to tell, and it uses its own unique voice to do so. It doesn’t have the same shallow, corporate vibe bleeding out of every arbitrarily-oversized crevice of Gears 5‘s huge explorable areas. While those big budget games often feel so focus tested to hell and back that they lose a lot of their soul, Plague Tale sits confidently in the middle market, and thus feels no obligation to compromise its artistic vision to please the masses. It says what it wants to say, and it does so in a very specific way. The linear levels are tightly designed with a particular theme or idea in mind, and the developers execute those ideas to the best of their abilities. Sometimes it works, other times less so, but what is absolutely certain is they had an idea and stuck to it, even if it doesn’t always come out perfect. This feels like exactly the game Asobo Studio wanted to make, so it’s fortunate that game happens to also be drop dead gorgeous and incredibly effective when it needs to be. There really is an art to tightly designed, hyper focused games such as this, and I hope the apparent success of Plague Tale inspires others to give these kinds of games a second chance.
49. Doki Doki Literature Club
(Fair warning: this section spoils Doki Doki Literature Club a fair bit so if you haven’t experienced it, I’d recommend skipping this sort and play it for yourself, since it’s free and quite short and it has cute anime characters so what else could you possibly need. Also, content warning for self-harm, abuse and suicide, because the stuff I end up touching on here is pretty heavy)
Okay, okay, feel free to get the hyucks out of your system before I explain this one. DDLC is a meme game in the same vein as Five Nights at Freddy’s or Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, since its success was entirely an in the moment explosion of popularity before quickly dwindling into relative obscurity. Of course, these games still have a dedicated following, but that fanbase likely would not exist without that initial flash-in-the-game excitement to catalyse the process. As they were trend games more than anything, it’s easy to dismiss them as remnants of a bygone era, so we can look back and think about how goofy and silly it was that we were spooked by the funny bear guy.
However, DDLC represents something of an exception in my mind. While a game like FNAF continues to have it’s fans, the conversation surrounding it begins and end with the mystery plot encompassing the franchise, growing ever more complicated by the day. It’s fine that people have fine with that, but presenting people with a mystery and their main objective becoming to try and solve that mystery is a bit of a boring outcome in my eyes. The fans of DDLC, on the other hand, went in a very different direction. Despite the, at times, genuinely horrifying content present in the source material, the fandom has become obsessed with depicting the main cast of anime girls as normal high schoolers, treating the game almost like the dating sim it actively attempts to subvert. I suppose this could be a consequence of horny weebs being themselves and we can let the conversation end there, but I think the reason for these strange circumstances is deeper than we give credit, as it relates to the text itself.
Doki Doki Literature Club is, at its core, a game about mental health. The main characters who are supposed to fill certain archetypes for romance visual novels (those being peppy, shy, yandere, and Monika) end up being portrayed as having their own fair share of psychological issues. Yuri cuts herself just to feel something, Natsuki is undernourished and clearly comes from an abusive household, and Sayori becomes so enveloped in her own depression that she ends up hanging herself halfway through the game. However, rather than using these character elements as a cheap way to satirise dating sims, it’s explained that the mastermind behind the goings on within the game, Monika, deliberately manipulated the characters into developing these psychological problems so that she could have a chance at dating you, the protagonist. However, by the end of the game, she eventually realises that none of these choices can change the fact that she and you can never be together.
DDLC taps into the stigma that often surrounds mental health within society, and it cleverly does so through the lens of a dating sim. Oftentimes, games like this depict love interests with surface level appeal – usually sex appeal, if we’re being honest – but DDLC seeks to subvert that trend by portraying its selection of waifus as incredibly damaged and uncomfortably human. The horror of the game comes less from the jumpscares and glitches effects, but rather from the genuine fear I got while playing as each character descended further and further into their own personal hells. It’s genuinely heartbreaking to watch unfold, made even more painful by your complete inability to change anything substantially. However, the game itself does not treat this as the end of the discussion. Rather, by deliberately denying Monika’s wish to be with the player – a writing decision that Monika herself is aware of in a meta sense – the developers prove to her that someone failing to meet an arbitrary standard for perfection by possessing flaws and trauma, that does not automatically make them less likeable as people.
Playing the game, I found myself growing strangely attached to these Pangs with funny hair colours. Maybe it’s because I’m fucking stupid, but considering how the community surrounding the game has turned out, I’m certainly not alone in this feeling. I truly wanted to learn more about these characters the more I played, and learning of their troubled backgrounds only made me want to be there for them even more. Much of the fanart for DDLC depicts them in fairly mundane circumstances, be it a trip to the park or hanging out wearing hoodies, and to me that expresses a deep connection to the entire premise of the game. Despite all of Monika’s best efforts, people still found a way to look past the characters’ flaws and wish upon them a happy life where it all works out okay. Perhaps that’s simply wishful thinking on their part or a plea to the standard VN fare, but isn’t that swing towards genuine empathy kinda magical all on its own? It’s a real victory story in gaming, at least in my eyes, and for a game so famous for breaking the fourth wall and connecting with our reality, this feels like the most appropriate outcome to me.
48. Katana Zero
In many ways, Katana Zero proved to me the dangers of the unnecessary expectations I set going into games. This game from developer Askiisoft caught my attention when it was shown off during a Nintendo Direct shortly before its release, but I sat on it for a while because of its aesthetic and the look of the gameplay. To me, the whole thing stank of unoriginality. The pixel art was seemingly nothing special, the hard-as-nails combat looked pretty standard, and every other aspect appeared to be ripped directly out the pages of every other popular indie game on the market. On a surface level, I wasn’t particularly impressed. I was convinced that while the game looked fun, it probably wouldn’t stretch beyond that point. Despite this, and because I’m terrible with money, I decided to give it a go, mainly as a way to kill time between game releases.
You already know where this is going. In another amazing display of dumbfuckery, I accidentally fell in love with Katana Zero with almost no persuasion needed. I was correct in that the core gameplay was engaging and enjoyable so it succeeded in that respect, but what truly captured my heart was the story surrounding the action. This game dedicates a lot of time to slowly navigating the world and the characters within it. It delves into what made this near-future dystopia in which you live the way that it is, and what part do you play in that series of events? The city is thick with this sickly atmosphere. It seems to be in a constant state of darkness, the streets almost completely empty, its occupants even more so. They all seem to blame some undisclosed group for their situation, but not only are these people nowhere to be found, it seems like this anger is simply filling an infinite void, those words destined for no ear.
It’s a pretty bleak set of circumstances, but it’s all delivered with this fascinating simplicity that I absolutely adored. I won’t delve too deep into the actual story at the core of the game, but the way in which its themes correspond to the state of the world I just described is quite impressive for such a small-scale production. It does the kind of world-building I love by explaining the state of things through the lens of an individual within it, delivering a heavily personal tale that can also be attributed to the larger narrative too. The character you play as, Zero, is just as clueless as you at the start of the game, so the gradual unfolding of the mystery that is this world feels organic, and learning of Zero’s troubled last alongside him is heartbreaking.
Coming back to my previous point, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of Katana Zero. By setting unfair expectations upon it, I almost allowed myself to miss one of the strongest pieces of video game storytelling I experienced in 2019. It manages to do a lot with very little, and that lesson I learned has encouraged me to seek out more indie games that don’t immediately seem amazing. Finding a diamond in the rough is quite tricky, but when you do unintentionally stumble upon something magnificent, it can feel incredible, and that feeling sticks with you far longer than the safety of sufficiently met expectations. I hope I can experience that feelings many more times in my life, because it’s a genuine thrill.
Okay, so picture this (if you want but you don’t have to I’m not your dad): a lonely 19-year-old sits alone in their room on a cold winter night in England (don’t worry, this isn’t a horror story, but England is horrible). Their attendance at university keeps slipping, and they’re often overwhelmed by this feeling of utter aimlessness. They don’t know where their life is going or if they can even envision a future where they escape from their own dumb broken brain. Perhaps they even consider a scenario where they cut their future short, but they feel terrible for even thinking about it so they bottle that feeling up and toss it away, hoping it’ll be gone for good this time. They look at their phone and notice the nominations for The Game Awards have dropped. Curious, they scan through the list and stop at the mobile games category. They probably scoff because they were still a little elitist at the time, but a game does catch their attention: Florence. They like the artstyle and the reviews seem very positive, so they give it a go. It’s only a mobile game, they think, what could be the harm? Little did they know, they’d be weeping silent years within the hour. This is, right at this moment, exactly what they needed.
A word that’s often used to describe Florence is “intimate”, and that’s a pretty apt description. Curled up on your bed, phone in hand, the game occurring mere inches from your face, is a unique experience for sure, and intimate is certainly a way to describe it. Something about playing mobile games feels inherently homely (provided you’re playing them at home, obviously), so that fact alone made it very easy to connect with the events of Florence pretty much immediately. On top of that, the immersive gameplay mechanics allow the player to be drawn into this familiar world. You go through the motions of a normal day in the life of a modern adult: wake up, brush teeth, check social media on the commute, attend down tedious work shift, go home, sleep, and repeat. It’s all very familiar if you’re a human being who exists in Current Year, but this initial process of immersing you into this character’s daily life is crucial to the story’s impact later on. I don’t really want to spoil what happens here because the game is literally half an hour long so there no excuse not to check it out. The game continues this commitment to establishing a familiar framework before the emotional stuff happens. It isn’t exactly a thrilling narrative, but simply one that seeks to capture the everyday struggles of people with the framing device of two people meeting and growing with one another.
And then we come back to the 19-year-old in the cold bedroom in England. They find themselves tearing up as the story unfolds, but what they initially mistake for years of sadness, they later realise is a much more complicated emotion to tackle. It’s a terrifying cocktail of fear, regret, but also genuine understanding and hope for the future. Now, I could never speak for this person, but if I had to guess, I imagine the game left an impression because of how it utilised that initial sense of familiarity to show how despite all of life’s trials and tribulations, it goes on. Perhaps they were forced to confront that they weren’t so different to Florence at all. They, too, wake up, brush their teeth (when they remember to, which is most days but they do forget sometimes), commute to their place of work, look at screens for hours feeling deflated, before coming home and sleeping it all off, ready for the next day. Maybe in their eyes, the game managed to capture brilliantly the sensation of being stuck in an almost hopeless situation, which made it feel so relatable at first. However, the floodgates opened as soon as that same game started showing changes in Florence’s life, and how those changes came about because she just kept on existing through it all. Perhaps they realised in that moment that hiding in their room, fearful of what will happen should they leave, will mean they miss out on all the beautiful wonderful parts of life, and not just the upsetting ones. In that moment, curled up under a blanket on a cold winter’s night, they come to terms with one important truth: life goes on, but it’s what we do with that life that counts.
46. Dishonored 2
It might come off as kinda strange to transition from that whole heap of emotions onto this one, because truthfully I don’t have a compelling personal tale to tell in relation to this game. I think I first played it way back in early 2017, and I distinctly remember thinking about how I’d never played anything like this before. Back then, I was basically just playing whatever popular action game was releasing and I’d occasionally shake things up with whatever indie game was popular at the time. I didn’t go out of my way to try any games outside of my comfort zone, but since Dishonored 2 was available as a demo, I decided to take the plunge into this stealth game I’d heard so much about. What awaited me was a series of gorgeous and varied stages, and the wider world encompassing it all captured me instantly.
Karnaca is an incredible setting; perhaps one of my favourite in video games, period. From a distance, it’s an astonishing achievement of visual design, replicating the look and feel of the many landscape paintings littered throughout the city. I imagine that’s how the protagonist, Emily, views the world she rules over. However, once she’s forcibly tasked with taking back the throne, she’s forced to walk the streets that were once as real to her as those paintings, and what she finds is the much uglier side of this world. This isn’t really a realisation the character herself comes to within the text, but that’s the experience I had inhabiting her in the first person. Karnaca up close is gross and deadly, but the people trapped within the city’s clutches aren’t all like that. Some of them are simply trying to get by, and meeting these well-meaning individuals adds so much flavour to the world around you, and makes your quest to bring down those who ousted you from your position of power more justified than ever.
In all honesty, the actual written story of Dishonored 2 isn’t, as the kids say, all that. It exists solely so the game can happen, but the way in which Arkane make up for that is through environmental storytelling and atmosphere, as I described earlier. I didn’t care that much about the evil witch who steals the throne or saving Corvo or whatever, but that never felt like a roadblock to me because the simple experience of navigating this beautiful, haunting world was unlike anything I’d seen before. This game played a part in opening my eyes to the potential of video games as an art medium by proving that games don’t necessarily need to conform to the traditional style of storytelling (i.e. by simply telling it) when it’s just as, if not more, capable to expressing those same ideas within the gameplay. I can see myself returning to Dishonored 2 for a while yet, just to soak in that incredible atmosphere one more time.
45. Until Dawn
I’ve never really been one for multiplayer games. On the rare occasion an online game catches my eye, I’m typically finished with it after a few hours. I’m not really a competitive person at heart so I don’t get a lot of satisfaction from besting others in the battlefield (aside from the battlefield of ideas, in which every liberal I face is slaughtered by my logical hand), and so I tend to gravitate towards narrative-driven single player experiences, because that’s what I personally value about the medium. But Ali, I hear you cry, why the fuck are you talking about multiplayer games in a segment about Until Dawn of all things? Well, to me, the beauty of this game lies less in the individual experience I had playing it, but rather the collaborative one I enjoyed outside of the gameplay.
I don’t think it’s unfair to consider Until Dawn a “movie game”. It’s clearly heavily inspired by horror cinema, utilising a number of cinematic techniques to maximise its horror and just overall impact as a piece of art. However, as I’m sure you’re aware of already, the selling point of this game is the permadeath. Operating as an interactive slasher flick, the player becomes personally responsible for these characters’ fates. in my first playthrough, for instance, I managed to get two different characters killed and for one of them, I had no idea how to save them. That was when I discovered one of my friends (@silas_pease on Twitter, follow him, he’s a more interesting person than me lmao) was a pretty big fan of the game too, having learned about it online. We had a lot of conversations about the different choices you can make, the various endings, and the ever-desirable *perfect run*. Sharing info with one another and learning little bits and pieces about the ins and outs of this thing became a highlight of my school experience (a low bar to be fair, private school is awful). I imagined this is what it must have been like back in the 80s and 90s before the internet was popularised, and the only way who could uncover a game’s secrets was by swapping notes with someone else and cross-referencing, piecing this bizarre puzzle together.
This culminated in a game night of sorts, where myself and a group of friends gathered and took turns controlling each individual character. Being in a group of people who had mostly known nothing about this game and witnessing as they experienced the very thing I found so enthralling myself at one time ended up being the dopamine hit I never realised I needed. All of a sudden, I understood the value of sharing the things you love with others. Ever since then, I get a special kick out of introducing my friends to some of my favourite media, be it games, movies, anime or whatever else. Until Dawn helped me understand the beauty of shared interest, and it’ll always hold a special place in my heart for that reason.
44. Untitled Goose Game
Alright, so I’ve already talked about how the previous games helped me out of some really tough spots and helped me come to terms with my identity, and they’ve been beaten by the fucking goose game. I’m fully prepared to back this one up as well, because Untitled Goose Game is an absolute treasure from beginning to end; a beautifully distilled series of entertaining scenarios culminating in one of the most joyous experiences I have ever had with a game.
Look, depressing games that induce suicidal tendencies within me get me as rock hard as any other self-respecting gamer, but there’s also a real art to making a game that’s just a lot of fun. Comedy games are few and far between, usually occupying any number of other genres as a way of falling back on tried-and-true gameplay mechanics. Fallout New Vegas has some brilliant darkly comedic writing, but it’s ultimately a supplemental feature to the core experience of first-person shooter action. As much as Donut County tickles me fancy, the mechanics of that game don’t exactly contribute to the hilarity. Again, comedy is but an incidental feature to the primary experience of swallowing an entire town in the name of raccoon gentrification (please play Donut County it’s not in my top 50 but it’s still very good). Untitled Goose Game isn’t like this, however. Rather, the game operates as a joke creation engine, entirely dictated by the player. The game doesn’t tell jokes at you, but it instead forces you to create situations with the mechanics provided and decide upon the flow of the joke being told, before capping it off with a killer punchline, be it a gardener hammering his thumb and knocking himself out, a boy tripping on his shoelaces into a puddle and losing his glasses, or running off with one end of a broken broom while a shopkeeper languishes in her defeat with this formidable avian opponent. These are all manufactured situations, of course, but they can only take place if the player enacts them by figuring out the intended beats of the joke. In a sense, the game is still the one telling the joke, but by presenting each building block before the punchline in this player-driven way, the comedy itself feels wholly organic and the joke loses its potentially distracting showiness.
All of this gives Untitled Goose Game this joyously chaotic atmosphere that has defined its entire reputation online. The titular goose is an embodiment of chaos; an unforeseen spanner in the works that threatens the peace of the village. What amazed me, however, was the way in which the game genuinely had me fully supporting the anarchic regime of the goose. The village’s occupants are just the worst. They’re immediately rude to the goose, but in this almost passive aggressive sense. They don’t chase you around unless you disrupt the perfectly preserved world they’ve made for themselves. You’re treated less like a garden pest, and more so like a straightforward outsider, generally tolerated within this society but never truly accepted. You can roam the streets, but you’re not allowed to access the pub or go into the local shops. The people here aren’t scared of you; if anything, they seem to hold this silent contempt for your continued presence. Picking up this certified meme game, I wasn’t expecting to be fucking gaslit by minimalist-design British conservatives. It was jarring at first, but this treatment only served to feed my undying avian wrath. These people fucking suck, so all of a sudden my aim to ruin their lives through a series of small inconveniences became something of a genuine mission. I made it my duty to tear down this authoritarian regime through mild disruption, and out of nowhere Untitled Goose Game became this bizarre power trip to in-state anarchy into this shitty little uptight village. I somehow managed to discover a sense of purpose in a game with a dedicated honk button, and if that’s not worthy of some strong fucking praise, I don’t know what is.
43. Little Nightmares
Jumping from unambiguous comedy to unambiguous horror, we have Little Nightmares, a decidedly very good and cool video game, hence why it’s on the list. If Tarsier Studio accomplished any one specific thing with this game, it would be the crushing atmosphere supplied by being a tiny cog in this incomprehensibly huge machine.
You play as Seven (not named in-game, it’s a Dark Souls type beat where you do your own research ya lazy bum), a little girl in a yellow raincoat, cursed with the eternal video game quest of running to the right as much as possible until you win. I kid, but as far as character motivation goes, there really isn’t much beyond that base understanding. As Seven, you don’t know who you are or where you’re going. All you can really decipher during your arduous journey is that the further right you run, the deeper you delve into this mysterious, foreboding environment you awaken within. This game is more or less allergic to exposition, so much of the experience is simply taking in your surroundings and absorbing the tangible despair leaking from every crevice of this fascinating area. The game is separated into stages, each more bizarre, grotesque and intriguing than the last. One thing is absolutely certain though: the occupants you come across seem to collectively perceive you, a harmless little child, as a threat, which means they’re all awfully keen on killing or capturing you whenever possible.
The enemy encounter are what stand out in my mind when I think back on this game. Mechanically, they’re nothing special, since most of them can be generally avoided via the old reliable throw-pot-run-away distraction tactic. As far as their design goes, however, they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Each of their features are huge and exaggerated. One guy has these horrifying long arms that stretch to three times the length of his body, while the chef twins are covered in layers of overlapping flab, which don’t even appear to be attached to their bodies since you see them regularly scratch and fumble around underneath them. Other passengers of this insane vessel are utterly enamoured by the meal set in front of them, gorging on the food almost as if in a trance. Once made a threat, they crawl over one another like animals, desperate to make you their next delicious serving, seemingly oblivious to anything in their surroundings. It all feels like the wild imagination of a child witnessing normal things and interpreting them as something much more antagonistic. It’s not a delusion, necessarily – these people definitely mean you harm – so their more surreal features feel almost like a coping mechanism amidst all the horrors that lie under the surface.
It all culminates in this uniquely supernatural experience that rarely holds your hand through the horrors, but simply directs you into the unknown with a knowing smirk, understanding full well that even more spooky shit lies in the dark. It’s a game that feels so controlled and confident in all the right ways, so assured of its ability to intrigue that it becomes instantly absorbing. I was always questioning, always digesting, and while I can’t say I fully understood what was going on 80% of the time, that truth never once turned to frustration at the game’s lack of ability. It’s one of those games that demands you switch off and just submerge yourself in the madness, and while that kind of thing isn’t to everyone’s taste, it certainly met mine so I can safely recommend it.
Truthfully, I didn’t get on with Observation at all to begin with. I bounced off the gameplay almost instantly when I realised how slow and meandering it all felt. The game expected me to pinpoint specific parts of a room with the camera moving at a snail’s pace, and I came shockingly close to giving up entirely just a few minutes in. Then I remembered, ‘oh wait, I literally paid money for this, don’t be fucking stupid Ali’ and decided to stick with it. I’m really glad I did, because what awaited me was one of the most unique sci-fi experiences I’ve ever had.
Generally, I enjoy sci-fi as a genre, but I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of its tendency to prioritise insanely expansive world-building (universe-building?) over a clear focused narrative. Of course, there will always been room for that sort of thing, but oftentimes these efforts to create entire believable universes rings a little cold to me, as if the writers made impressing the audience with lore a primary goal as opposed to writing good characters or whatever. These are really vague, uncontroversial statements I’m making right now so apologies for that, but I guess my point is mainstream sci-fi has a habit of over-explaining itself, at least based on that which I’ve enjoyed. I expected Observation to operate in a similar manner. Since the main hook is that you play as the AI of a malfunctioning ship, I was sure the story would go one of two ways, if not both: a) you were evil the whole time, or b) there’s spooky monsters on the ship and you’ve gotta keep the crew safe with Five Nights at Freddy’s mechanics). I mean, they could both be fun, but Observation is neither of these things. It isn’t really like anything I’ve played before, and that was the most thrilling part.
This game does not hold your hand. Not that its difficult or anything – on the contrary, it’s pretty straightforward and easygoing – but it really leaves the player a lot of quiet time to sit alone with their thoughts, in the vast emptiness of space. The setting of a conventional space station is generally pretty familiar, but you can’t help but feel like an outsider. As the AI, your only method of viewing the environments is through wall-mounted cameras, lending the game this unsettling omniscience, almost like you’re intruding on a story you aren’t supposed to see. Despite being the camera, you feel as though you aren’t really in control, as if you’re the one being watched, which is extremely relevant to the narrative. The game feels like a constant out of body experience, and it all contributes to the game’s themes of humanism and consciousness. You are forcibly detached from humanity and made to witness the humans on the ship through an objective lens, and I can’t think of any other game that really captures that roboticism like Observation does.
The game begins in absolute darkness. The black void occasionally interrupted by a weak ray of sunlight through a window, illuminating the room for a brief enough time to process your surroundings, before disappearing, plunging you back into the unknown. Much of the game feels like that; a cycle of comprehension and utter bewilderment, an explanation always feeling just within reach, before escaping further and further away each time. It’s not frustrating, however. If anything, it’s quite a hypnotic experience, helped by the game’s beautiful drip feeding of new information at just the right times. Much like Little Nightmares, sometimes it’s fun to lose yourself in an experience, especially one as utterly fascinating as this one. I can’t promise you’ll feel satisfied by the end of this one, but it will be by no means a derivative experience.
41. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Here’s a fun question: is there an art to creating sequels? I mean, the obvious answer is yes, but what I’m curious about is how beholden a sequel must be to its prior materials. Being the fourth game in a series, there’s a whole fuckload of expectation laid thick upon your work. After so many entries, are you expected to operate in much the same way, hitting those same narrative beats? Uncharted 4 is, in a sense, about this eternal conflict between expectations and progression. Nathan Drake is a man bereft of purpose, yearning for the good old days of treasure hunting and general swashbuckling. The game deliberately forces the player into these mundane situations of working a day job, checking cargo, and going home to make dinner and hang out on the couch. It wants you to experience the same frustration Nathan feels in being deprived of action and excitement. Being the first Unchartered game since 2011 (a five-year gap), it toys with the player’s expectation of what to expect in an Uncharted game, and to me that’s pretty bold of Naughty Dog to stick by their guns and really commit to the bit.
But inevitably, an action game has to happen. It’s a triple AAA blockbuster game after all, not some icky stinky “walking simulator” for beta spawn (idk what the gamers are mad at right now, this is my best guess), so Nathan is granted his wish and gets to start finally murdering fellas in the hundreds. That action is fun in the moment, but every thrill ride sequence is always undercut with a pointed reminder that the only reason Nathan is here is because he lied to his wife, knowing full well that his actions are wrong. The game is downright confrontational about it at times, making Nathan out as less of the typical handsome rugged Harrison Ford impersonator, and more of a weak-willed selfish dickhead. He’s still our lovable Nate, but make no mistake: he is in the wrong here, and the game wants you to know it.
Now, I really don’t want to say much more because the true appeal of this game is the way in which it expands upon this primary theme of nostalgia; how it can act as both a blessing and a curse, but most importantly a point of perspective to initiate growth. It takes these established characters and throws them into emotional situations that feel totally fresh, yet absolutely believable given what’s come before, and manages to wrong further nuance from their interactions and unique perspectives on the matter. It’s insanely impressive that the fourth instalment to a series can achieve such ambitious heights and have it all feel wholly organic. Naughty Dog might not be everyone’s favourite studio right now, but what I absolutely adore them for is their fearlessness in telling the story they want to tell, faults and all. The fact that these stories are often accompanied by a killer cast, gorgeous visuals and beautifully refined gameplay helps a fair bit too! I don’t think you’d necessarily need to play the original trilogy before jumping into Uncharted 4, but if you want to enjoy the full experience of taking one last ride with Nate and the plethora of emotions that come with that, I recommend playing it all. Believe it or not, the games are good!
Aaaaaand that is that concerning that! At least for this first part, because you can now look forward to four more of these bad boys as I run through the best this generation had to offer. I hope this was an entertaining read, and stay tuned because the game’s only get stronger from here. Thanks, and I love you!