Welcome back to Ali’s procrastination from university work, also known as the top 50 games of this console generation! This is a continuation of my last post which covered entries 50-41, so if you missed that then click here and enjoy my bad takes. I won’t delay any more; let’s keep going!
40. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
As this list continues on, I might start to notice a glaring absence of one particular genre, that being horror games. By no means do I dislike horror – in fact, it may well be one of my favourite genres across all art mediums. I’ve watched a fair amount of horror movies, and I’m steadily cultivating my horror manga collection as we speak. On top of that, I’m pretty sure I’ve invested more time in YouTube videos talking about horror games than I ever will in my future children, so I’d say I’m a pretty big fan. However, horror games have always posed a problem for me because, in a cruel twist of fate, I’m a little pussy bitch. I can watch horror occur before me, comfortable in the knowledge that whatever happens is out of my hands, but once I’m made personally responsible for the well-being of a character, I fucking buckle *hOrd*. I get quite absorbed in games so it becomes really easy to psyche myself out hard enough to want to stop playing. The same thing tends to happen if a game injects a feeling of guilt into my veins. Papers, Please, for example, is one of my favourite games ever but it fucked me up so badly that I’m scared to ever return to it (and that’s a big part of the reason I love it, to be fair).
That being said, Resident Evil 7 proved to buck the trend for me. In late 2017, I managed to sit down with a friend, crack open a bag of snacks, and smash through the entire thing over the course of a couple days. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from it, other than some good old fashioned abnormal encounters with some colourful characters, and yeah that’s basically the entire game in a nutshell. Don’t misunderstand though! Just because the game simply met my expectations doesn’t necessarily mean it could’ve been better because as it stands, Resi 7 is absolutely brilliant and I owe at least some of my current taste in games to it. This game is quite strange in a lot of ways, carefully towing the line between knowing absurdity and straight-played horror quite beautifully. It manages to place you directly into this insane situation, surrounded by a family of nutjobs, and you’re somehow expected to make sense of it all. This then supplies quite the feeling of catharsis when you slowly learn the ins and outs of the area, gradually mastering the world around you by unlocking doors and acquiring crucial new items, seizing control of the situation and becoming a hero worthy of the Resident Evil name. It’s this subtle empowerment of the player that makes these games so much fun, and far more engaging to me than, say, the Outlasts of the world, where the only real mechanic is to run and hide. Those games are good at what they do and that’s fine, but personally I find it more compelling when a game can successfully tow the line between empowerment and disempowerment the way Resident Evil does, keeping you constantly on edge, yet supplying you with just the right tools to overcome the challenge that awaits.
This game has become quite important to me because it was my first real taste of video game horror. Before this, the closest I got was the mobile version of Five Nights At Freddy’s and certain parts of Undertale, but aside from that I was still a wee babby in the eyes of the gamer gods. I guess you might consider it a bit of a cheat that I beat this game with a friend so I wasn’t necessarily playing it the whole time, but if that was the only way for me to experience this wonderful game then I can’t possibly call that a mistake. As many of you may know, I’m kind of a dumbass, so I put off playing Resi 7 for the longest time, simply because I felt like I needed to be in exactly the right state of mind to play it. I have a tendency to apply unnecessary expectations to the games I want to play, and for Resi 7 it was the fear of experiencing a proper horror game for the first time. I convinced myself that I had to play this game in the absolute most perfect state of being to enjoy it fully, when really that was simply an excuse to avoid trying something new, due to the fear that it wouldn’t meet my expectations. It sounds ridiculous in hindsight (anxiety do be that bitch sometimes doe), but I’m just glad I had someone there to face this thing head-on alongside me, because it helped me escape this bizarre prison I had trapped myself in. Resident Evil 7 proved to be a stepping stone in the process of helping me try new games without fear, so it’s lucky that the game is also extremely good!
Okay, so this entry is going to be a lot shorter than the others because I’ve already summarised my feelings on why Control absolutely fucking bangs in my ‘Favourite Games of 2019’ post, so I won’t go on a lengthy explanation of what the game means to me. After sitting with it for about a year, Control remains far and away one of the most unique and utterly fascinating triple AAA experiences I’ve ever had. I have had a blast stumbling my way through this game’s many intricacies, submerging in its bizarre atmosphere and gorgeous visual style. It’s a really special case, and one I can safely recommend to anyone looking for something new.
38. If Found…
The feeling of being an outsider is one well tread in basically ever art medium, but the specific horror of realising the place you once belonged chooses to reject you is less common, yet equally prescient in my eyes. If Found… isn’t even remotely a horror game, but its themes and narrative certainly did plenty to have me confront some uncomfortable truths about myself. I already spoke about this game in my post about 2020 indie games, so I won’t get into it too much here. I think the part of Kasio’s story that impacted me the most was being confronted with a reality where the people and places you love treat your changes and attempts to live a life honest to yourself with attitudes ranging from quiet disapproval to active contempt. It’s a really scary thought as someone slowly figuring out their own identity, but If Found… is an honest and beautiful reminder that no matter what situation you find yourself in, be it of your own actions or not, things will get better if you just hang in there and stay true to yourself. People are good, and chances are at least one person wants you to be okay, so it’s worth giving them the opportunity to change. Hang in there, fellas ❤
37. What Remains of Edith Finch
Oh boy, we’re really riding the happy fun times train at the moment. Next stop: the existential inevitability of death! (feat. that good old crippling feeling of loss as everyone you love slowly fades away). I’m making What Remains of Edith Finch out to be a much more depressing experience than it actually is. I mean, I didn’t lie either though; this game is about death and has quite a sizable body count by the end. However, it delivers these events and its themes in this almost whimsical manner, reminiscing on the tragic past of the Finch family in a way almost akin to recounting a series of fairy tales. In both a figurative and literal sense, Edith Finch feels less like a traditional video game and closer to the experience of flipping through an old photo album and having old memories play out in your mind one by one.
That isn’t to say Edith Finch doesn’t justify itself as a video game. Disregarding the fact that I fundamentally disagree with the assertion that video games ought to justify themselves and they should just be whatever they want to be, Edith Finch simply works very well with the addition of interactivity. The first person perspective applies this intense intimacy to the events in the narrative, allowing the player to more easily empathise with the characters, beyond the baseline understanding that people dying is a bit of a bummer all on its own. Empathy is the name of the game here, and the game constantly uses its minimal mechanics to push that feeling to the forefront. With some very simple gameplay tricks, you get such a strong sense of who these people are and what led them to their situation, making their inevitable deaths sting all the more.
The reason I love What Remains of Edith Finch as much as I do is because it’s a perfect example of the simple yet complex power of video games as a medium. With these small additions and careful consideration for what those additions convey, the story is elevated far beyond anything achievable in any film or TV show. It’s so exciting to play games like Edith Finch because they display the potential of this incredible art medium, so if you’ve got a couple hours to spare and are up for a potential wee cry, give this one a look-see!
36. Red Dead Redemption 2
Wow, remember Red Dead Redemption 2? You know, the game that had one of the most successful openings for any game in the history of the Earth, with opening weekend revenues doubling that of Avengers Endgame? It’s weird, at least I think so, that after all these shattered records and endless critical praise, we don’t really talk about Red Dead 2 anymore. I suppose at the same time, however, it’s not shocking at all, because this game fits the decades-old Rockstar formula to a fucking tee and it’s become quite forgettable as a result. Games like Red Dead 2 don’t tend to stand out because it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table at all, which is crazy considering the production values on display here. I suppose capitalism’s gonna capitalism and we can’t do much about that, but I’m still happy to give this game a couple good words because I really do love it a lot, despite its *many* flaws.
I think the one aspect of Red Dead 2 I love the most is atmosphere. In just about every way I can think of, this game is the Wild West. The level of detail on display is staggering; just scanning through the game’s subreddit reveals all these insane systems-driven events that continue to be discovered to this day (I found out today that pigs will eat dead bodies if given one. Like seriously, what the fuck Rockstar). It becomes really difficult to separate appreciation for these technical achievements from the human cost behind it all as a result of developer crunch, but at the end of the day, the game was made and the team did an incredible job. I could never say it was worth all the pain and suffering to get to that point, but what’s been created here is astonishing and the devs should be proud of the work they did regardless.
More than the attention to detail though, the game also supplies gorgeous lighting and sound design, among a million other little things that all culminate to create this incredible Wild West environment. The narrative is very well written and I enjoyed my time with it, but my fondest memories of playing Red Dead 2 were the quiet ones, where I just wandered around on horseback, listening to the wind whistle through the trees as tiny rocks and grass gave way to my trusty steed’s hooves. Sometimes I’d come across a colourful character or a brief event, like sucking the snake venom out of a guy’s leg or witnessing a prospector finally strike gold, and discovering those organically by simply exploring America at my leisure felt truly magical. There’s a lot to be said about immersion in games and calling Red Dead 2 such a thing is a bit paste at this point, but it’s the honest truth. Sometimes it’s nice to go on a little cowboy adventure, taking in the world around you and falling desperately in love.
35. Return of the Obra Dinn
I’m pretty sure back in 2018, Obra Dinn qualified as one of my most anticipated games ever, and that was entirely down to Lucas Pope’s previous game, Papers Please. Sadly did not released this generation but if it did, it’d rank in the top five easily. It was an incredibly formative game for me, injecting this paralysing guilt and gut-wrenching fear into my body and mind in a game about being a checkpoint officer reviewing documents. It’s a game with a simple premise that’s stretched to its absolute conceivable limits, and I’ll treasure it as my introduction to the power of video games forever.
But this section isn’t about Papers Please; we’re here to talk about Pope’s latest release, Return of the Obra Dinn, which poses the bold hypothetical, ‘what if you combined dry maritime sailing novels only yer da reads with something actually fun like a murder mystery?’ Well apparently, you get a really cool video game, what a twist! I can’t really say a whole lot about Obra Dinn without giving the whole surprise of the narrative away, so you’re just gonna have to trust me when I say there’s a moment about 10-15 minutes that had my jaw on the floor and my heart in my throat, as I instantly fell in love. In hindsight, the game showing its hand like it does should’ve been easy to predict considering its a story about sailors doing a couple funny murders in the middle of the ocean, but in the moment I was completely swept away by it all. Obra Dinn, despite its extremely minimalist style, does a lot to immerse the player in the environment with sound design, voice acting and music that hit the mark perfectly across the board.
Personally, I adore the visual style of this game, since I really think it adds to the mystery and forces the player to pay very close attention to every little detail. Without much coercion, I found myself activating my anime glasses, obsessively combing through voice lines and environments, pinpointing tiny details like accents, bunk numbers, outfits, all to decipher which body belongs to this severed head. Obra Dinn, better than any game I’ve seen before, masterfully tricks the player into feeling clever by mixing up the jigsaw pieces to let you organise it into the right places to make a coherent picture. I can’t even begin to imagine how much of a headache it must’ve been to whip this monster into shape, but what came out of it is something truly special. And hey, it might even get you into naval fiction. I doubt it though, because those books are fucking boring.
34. A Short Hike
I tend to gravitate towards more engaging action-y games, not because I necessarily prefer them, but rather as a consequence of the immediate satisfaction you can get from them. In 2019 specifically, I got extremely into hard games, particularly the Souls series and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. For a while, it was the only kind of game I felt compelled to play, which is unfortunate, not because they’re bad games (three of them literally appear on this list so look forward to that), but simply due to the fact that I have to also be in the right mood for games that require such a level of focus. If I’m having a shitty day, these are absolutely not the games I would ever want to play. Amidst this bizarre dilemma I was having, I came across this adorable little Steam release by pure chance. I hadn’t heard of this game at all, but the artstyle was immediately striking and it was only £5 or so on release day, so I figured I could take the risk.
A Short Hike is by no means an absolute gamechanger, neither for the industry nor on a personal level, but it never pretends that’s what it’s aiming for either. The game centres around Claire, a bird person nervously expecting a call from her hospitalised mother, to hear back about a recent surgery she underwent. Unfortunately, the only place with reception on this island where she’s staying is atop the intimidating Hawk Peak, so you’re tasked with scaling the mountain so you can receive that call. That’s the entire game, and it only took me a couple hours to meet that goal, but that doesn’t change the fact that this game managed to tap into some hidden part of my psyche. It’s a game that accurately depicts the terrifying nature of confronting some of the tougher realities in life by framing the action as a mountain hike. Other games have used this device as well, but what makes A Short Hike particularly special is all the other people you can befriend on this quaint little island. Everyone on the island has something going on and along your own personal journey, you can choose to lend a helping hand. There’s a rabbit who wants a lucky headband to make themselves run quicker. Another person tries to sell you golden feathers at exorbitant prices and when you purchase them all, he reveals he was only doing it to pay for college. The island is packed with these brief interactions that always manage to deliver an endearing little punch every time. It’s a constant reminder not to feel alone in the world. Everybody has their own unique personal dilemma, and while that doesn’t make overcoming your own hardships any easier in a tangible sense, it’s at least a small comfort to know that in many ways, we’re all stuck on the same little island, adrift in an endless sea.
Don’t worry, that initial preamble about hard games or whatever is relevant to this. At the time of playing this game, I was in a space where I needed somewhere to escape, but for whatever reason that place manifested as incredibly punishing From Software games because my brain is a dumb bitch. A Short Hike, much like Claire’s own situation, was something of a mental reset during a difficult time that I really needed to move forward with all this life crap. It wasn’t trying to provide a physical or emotional challenge of any kind. Rather, it’s a game that wants to sit down, hold your hand, and tell you everything is going to be okay. It was exactly the kind of reassurance I needed as exams approached and it felt like the world was beginning to collapse on all sides, and from then on, moving forward and taking on life’s challenges became just a little bit easier.
33. Nioh 2
Ever since I played the From Software games for the first time, I’ve developed something of an addiction to that one particular type of game. A lot is said about Soulslikes being hard and that’s why they’re good, and while that’s isn’t necessarily false, I personally find everything surrounding the tricky combat to be the more satisfying piece of the puzzle. What I adore about these games is being dumped into an unknown area and slowly traversing its many ins and outs, absorbing the atmosphere and environmental storytelling along the way. Simply put, From games wouldn’t be the beloved classics they are without everything they are framed around, which is why my love for Nioh 2 perplexes me a little.
Please don’t misunderstand: in terms of setting, aesthetics and atmosphere, Nioh 2 kills it decisively. It’s a really absorbing game in many ways, but as far as level design goes, it doesn’t even come close to the general quality of From’s output. So what makes Nioh 2 so special, and why is it so high up the list? Well, it just so happens to have one of the most unbelievably satisfying combat systems in any game I’ve played in recent memory. The process of unlearning my habits from From games and understanding what Nioh 2 was demanding of me was certainly frustrating at first, but once it clicked, it was like being able to ride a bike for the first time. All the fear just swept away as I began engaging with the experience in a way that I simply never have in any Souls game.
I realise my little review of Nioh 2 contains a lot of comparison to From games, and while I can see that being somewhat contentious as a focus, it’s actually what impressed me the most about this game. Team Ninja were clearly very aware that trying to beat From Software at their own game would be a fruitless task. The truth is that very few developers do world-building and level design as brilliantly as From, so instead Nioh 2 focuses primarily on the satisfaction of its core gameplay loop, and it is overwhelmingly better for it. Despite what you might think based on what I’ve written here, when I play Nioh 2, I don’t ever think about the Souls games, since I’m usually having such a blast fighting spooky demons to care. Nioh 2 is pretty amazing to me because it takes the basic framework established by From Software, and laser focuses in on an often critiqued aspect of the Souls games, thus carving out an identity of its very own. Nioh 2 will kick your ass inside out and spit on your crippled body as any good Soulslike ought to, but that’s entirely down to Team Ninja’s specific talents for deep combat design, and nobody can ever take that away from them.
32. The Last Of Us: Part II
Oh boy, it’s the fun game that everyone likes, this should be easy to talk about. The reception to The Last Of Us Part 2 was perhaps to be expected considering the content of the piece, but I don’t think anyone could have guessed the sheer volume of pure anger that has erupted in the wake of its release. It’s exposed some of the absolute worst elements of the gaming community, and that’s saying something after fucking Gamergate came and went. More than that though, it was also a little disheartening that people seemed so aggressively unwilling to at least humour what TLOU2 was putting down. I know people who claimed the game was bad for the controversial narrative decisions made within it, and they hadn’t even played the game themselves. It speaks to the Very Online nature of discussion these days that everyone felt the need to have a take on this game, even those who hadn’t played it, seemingly unwilling to accept that maybe the message lands better if you’ve spent upwards of 20 hours experiencing a plethora of trials and tribulations with these characters. I don’t know; it just feels a bit shitty that people feel able to judge a game confidently without experiencing it as it was intended, because as a game, I think TLOU2 works pretty fucking well actually.
Truthfully, I have a hell of a lot to say about this game, what worked for me, what didn’t, and why I personally came away from it believing it to be a truly fantastic and valuable experience. I have a plethora of reasons to say that, but quite honestly, it would feel like a shame to condense it all into this brief couple of paragraphs, so I’d prefer to really flesh that stuff out in a full article. To summarise my general thoughts on this game, I think The Last Of Us Part 2 is a masterclass in human storytelling, and by using the medium of video games, it is able to establish a level of empathy simply not possible in other mediums. It’s a game devoid of any narrative-altering choices, but to suggest that shows Naughty Dog simply ought to be making movies instead feels incredibly reductive to me. Video games are capable of telling stories in such a diverse variety of ways, and implying every game about morality ought to give the player to opportunity to impose their own morality upon the narrative just feels reductive to me. You would scoff if I said that Doom Eternal sucks because it doesn’t let me choose whether or not I kill the Icon of Sin at the end because Doom is, at its core, a tightly designed experience solely about one guy’s mission to eliminate all demons from existence by any means necessary. It’s a very straightforward story with a very one-dimensional character at the helm, but I don’t see why the same approach can’t be used for stories like in The Last Of Us Part 2.
It’s a game that’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, and encourages you to seriously question Ellie’s methods in her search of vengeance. A lot of people have read this as Naughty Dog blaming the player for playing out the game’s morally reprehensible scripted actions. However, I really don’t think this is the case, because I really don’t believe that’s what the intention was here. Rather, much like many of Naughty Dog’s other games, the previous The Last Of Us especially, are designed as empathy machines. They place you in the head of a character and have you play out their actions, which then allows you to look inward and question how you feel about that. That’s the true beauty of recent Naughty Dog games in my opinion. They take a similar approach to movies by simply enacting a linear set of events, but by including that additional element of interactivity, it allows that lesson the story wishes to teach to land a lot harder, because you were forced to essentially roleplay the sensation of, for example, beating someone to a bloody heap to make them talk, or even less gruesome things like throwing a photo of your deceased daughter away to avoid confronting your grief. I don’t think there’s another team that manages to pull this particular balancing act off quite as well as Naughty Dog in games today, and that’s why you better believe I’ll be the first in line for whatever comes next in their catalogue.
31. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
I mean, what can I even say about Mario Kart that we all don’t already know? It’s fucking Mario Kart. It’s fantastic and easily one of the best multiplayer games I’ve ever played. It’s maybe the only multiplayer game I’m even remotely good at. That is literally all the explanation I need for why it’s here. No I’m not writing any more. Go home. Fuck you.
Tune in for the top 30-21 games of the 8th console generation, hopefully coming soon if I don’t procrastinate too hard!