Dénouement 2021 Part 3: The Good Stuff

By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 27, 2021

Filed under: Industry Events 76 comments

Like I’ve belabored already, I didn’t get to play a lot of stuff this year. My general impression is that this year is a lot like 2014, which was a generally “meh” year that didn’t have a lot of standout titles. Or maybe there were some great games and I missed them because I was distracted. Or maybe the games I played were great, but I couldn’t really get into them because I wasn’t feeling my best. 

Ugh. Enough introspection. Whatever. I didn’t get excited about a lot of games in 2021, but I did manage to have a good time with a few. Here are the first four:

7. Dorfromantik

I'm rubbish at the game, but I find it incredibly relaxing anyway.
I'm rubbish at the game, but I find it incredibly relaxing anyway.

This was a charming little trifle of a game. The game deals you a stack of hexagonal pieces. Each edge can be woodlands, plains, houses, water, or farmland. Your goal is to place tiles with as many matching edges as possible. The better you do at matching edges, the higher your score. Scoring more points earns you more tiles, allowing you to continue expanding the map.

This one falls into the “trivial to learn, difficult to master” space that so many puzzle games aspire to. It’s a simple idea with simple rules and pretty art. This is the perfect coffee-break game for when you find yourself getting tired of old standbys like Tetris and Minesweeper.

6. Portal 2 Reloaded

Link (YouTube)

This was a nice little surprise. This free community-made mod for Portal 2 features a handful of new puzzles built around a time-shifting mechanic. In this game you have your usual portals for moving through space, plus an additional portal that allows you to jump between the present-day testing center and the dilapidated testing center of 20 years from now. Which means the puzzles in this game are slightly 4-dimensional.

In the future-space, some machines will be broken, glass will be shattered, power might be out, and piles of rubble will sometimes block your way. Going through the rectangular time portal will carry you to the other version of the facility, standing in the same spot. There are tricky shenanigans where you can leave a cube on the ground in the present and find it sitting in the same spot in the future, but moving the future cube will obviously not impact the position of the one in the past. This asymmetry takes some getting used to and forms the foundation for a lot of the early puzzles.

On top of having great puzzles, a brilliant new gimmick, and solid level design, the writing is pretty solid. The writing in fan-made Portal works is usually pretty bad. The best ones simply re-tell the jokes of the original with inferior voice acting, and the bad ones blunder into cringe territory. Eric Wolpaw – author of the original games – is a tough act to follow and his characters have a very unique voice that can be difficult to replicate.

I can’t promise that Portal 2 Reloaded attains Wolpaw-level humor, but it’s an admirable work with jokes that land. The author wisely didn’t try to bring GlaDOS into this, and instead features the voice of the “pre-recorded” announcements we heard in the introduction to Portal 2.

I’d have been happy to pay money for this, but with a price tag of zero this is a no-brainer. If you’re a fan of the Portal universe or gameplay, then this one is easily worth your time. Check it out.

5. Neon Abyss

The game was still getting updates when I was playing it. I should go back and see what's new.
The game was still getting updates when I was playing it. I should go back and see what's new.

I don’t usually go for roguelikes. I get a little too frustrated when a run ends and I have nothing to show for it. 

I’m also not a huge fan of side-scrolling platformers. In my own personal journey through the hobby, I never spent time with the genre. As a kid in the 70s I was stuck with the early arcade classics of the time. Then I sort of took the 80s off from gaming to focus on programming. When the 90s rolled around it was time for shooters. Which means I basically skipped over the Nintendo years and never developed the passion for platformers that so many gamers seem to have. In fact, I’ve always been generally terrible at the genre and I find it vaguely annoying.

I’m also not crazy about games with huge checklists of crap to do. Stuff like: 

  • Defeat a hojillion blue slimes.
  • Defeat Twenty Kabillion green slimes.
  • Pick up 50 inverted widgets.
  • Beat the game using the cardboard butterknife.

The guy in the red cap is one of the playable characters. I can't remember his name. I just think of him as 'the one that looks like Mark Rober'.
The guy in the red cap is one of the playable characters. I can't remember his name. I just think of him as 'the one that looks like Mark Rober'.

I don’t know. I just can’t get into games where you need a wiki and a spreadsheet to figure out how to unlock all the goodies.

All of this is to say that I have no idea how this checklist-driven roguelike platformer wound up on my best-of-2021 list. Neon Abyss is like the anti-Shamus game. Why did I like it? Was it the groovy music? The gentle (by the standards of the genre) difficulty curve?The inclusion of difficulty modes probably helped a lot. Most roguelikes take a more Soulsian approach to difficulty. The neon lights? The deity-tier pixel art? I honestly don’t know.

In this game you dive into a dungeon beneath a nightclub to fight various gods. I didn’t really worry about the endless checklists of unlocks. I just slammed head-first into the game again and again until I managed to beat Prometheus. I got the impression that there was still a lot more to do after that, but I knew I was at the limit of my abilities so that’s where I decided I’d call it quits.I BARELY beat Prometheus at the end of a very lucky run with a strong character on Easy difficulty. There’s no way I’d be able to pull that off with some of the more fragile character classes.

I had fun with it, but I can’t explain why. I realize this means I’m failing at my job as a critic. Sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s been a weird year.

4. Deathloop

I LOVE the art style in this game. I love the music. I love the retro-future punchcard-punk aesthetic. I love the animated chapter introductions. Sadly, I don't care for the gameplay itself.
I LOVE the art style in this game. I love the music. I love the retro-future punchcard-punk aesthetic. I love the animated chapter introductions. Sadly, I don't care for the gameplay itself.

I had a hard time figuring out how I felt about this game. It’s not bad, but it wasn’t really what I wanted from developer Arkane and I had a hard time not holding that against it. 

It’s like if BioWare made a really solid first-person shooter with a minimalist story. One one hand, the game is fine. On the other hand, it doesn’t contain any of the elements I look for in a BioWare game.

I have very particular tastes when it comes to immersive sims. I want the environment to be dark and spooky. I want the atmosphere to be thoughtful and isolating. I want the enemies to be monstrous and mysterious. Ideally, the environment itself should feel hostile to my presence. 

Deathloop is pretty much the opposite of all of this. Instead of a spooky installation filled with monsters, I’m invading an island where a bunch of drunken idiots have set up a time loop so they can have a never-ending party without consequences. Instead of feeling isolated, I have a rival badass that calls me up for some bravado and trash talk.

Shit, I’ve played 20 hours of this game and I still don’t know why I’m supposed to care about breaking this stupid time loop. I guess my character is tired of the loop and wants to do something else? The System Shock games had a setup of “I am nearly the last person alive on this space station, fighting for my own survival in the face of a malevolent enemy that is compelled to destroy me.” Deathloop has the setup of “I’m bored and I’d rather go home.” 

I dunno. That just doesn’t grab me.

Having said all that: It’s not a bad game. I had fun with it, but I spent the whole time wishing it was something else. 

So that’s the first half of my list. I’ll post the rest later this week.



[1] The inclusion of difficulty modes probably helped a lot. Most roguelikes take a more Soulsian approach to difficulty.

[2] I BARELY beat Prometheus at the end of a very lucky run with a strong character on Easy difficulty. There’s no way I’d be able to pull that off with some of the more fragile character classes.

From The Archives:

76 thoughts on “Dénouement 2021 Part 3: The Good Stuff

  1. Lasius says:

    Shamus, why do you keep putting a space in the name of Dorfromantik? You wouldn’t say mine sweeper.

    1. Shamus says:

      Because that’s how it’s stylized in-game?



      But you’re right, outside of the game it’s all one word.

      1. Lasius says:

        That is true. But the game is called Dorfromantik (stress on Dorf), as this is how German compound words work.

        1. Christopher Wolf says:

          I see it this way: Spider-man and Batman. Both are written correctly. When it comes down to it, proper nouns don’t have to follow specific rules, they are what they are. If the game adds a space, that is the correct way to write the game title, because it is a proper noun (name of the game).

          1. Lasius says:

            Dorfromantik does not add a space though.

            1. Rho says:

              However we are speaking (writing) English, which follows other languages into darkened alleys, clubs them over the head, and rifles through their pockets for loose grammar. The dorfs shall have get along as romantically as we please, or not if we don’t!

              1. Lasius says:

                But Dorfromantik is a German game. As such the proper name of the game follows German orthography rules. Which is evident in the fact that it is called “Dorfromantik”.

                1. Rho says:

                  German is just Dutch with delusions of grandeur.

                  Deutsch ist nur Niederländische sprache, mit größenwahn.

                  1. Lasius says:

                    Almost correct.

                    1. Rho says:

                      In meaning or grammatically? (I was rushing about and failed to capitalize all the nouns, sad to say).

                    2. Lasius says:


                      But instead you capitalized an adjective.

                      It would be either “Niederländisch” or “die niederländische Sprache”, with the former being more natural and concise.

                      Also the comma is superfluous.

                    3. Rho says:

                      That’s fair. However, the comma is just my style. I tend to write that way in English, also.

        2. Michael says:

          But the game is called Dorfromantik (stress on Dorf), as this is how German compound words work.

          But we’re talking about it in English, so we have to follow the rules for English words. You can’t have a sequence of three unstressed syllables in a row; you have to provide stress for Dorf- and -man-.

          1. Lasius says:

            “Dorfromantik” has the same stress pattern as “Kindergarten”.

      2. tmtvl says:

        Ah, see, what happened there is they forgot to add the reverse solidus, a classic mistake that can lead to much hilarity. (“mkdir My Documents” vs “mkdir My\ Documents”).

  2. Bubble181 says:

    -> “diet-tier pixel graphics”. Are they trying to lose weight or bulk up? Or are they of the divine level of quality? In which case, deity :-)
    -> “One one hand”. An extra -e in there.

    1. Michael G says:

      Diet-tier would imply the graphics are slimmed down or not substantial, so I guess you could easily use Diet-tier as a good description of something. that is less than similar things.
      Deity tier on the other hand, whilst it still works, seems like a bad descriptor for anything less than perfect. If something had deity tier pixel graphics then I’d expect those graphics to literally be the best anyone could ever hope to achieve and any game using a pixel style to pale in comparison.
      Sorry to ramble, just I’ve heard people describe something as “A diet version of X” or “It’s like a diet-x” but have never heard anyone say “deity-tier” or “deity like”. God like, sure, but never deity

      1. Shamus says:

        The (intended) joke is that it’s deity-tier instead of god-tier, because it’s a game about a bunch of deities: Athena, Ares, Zeus, etc.

        But then I made a typo, and now Christmas is ruined.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          I assumed deity-tier like Deity level difficulty in Civ, or indeed, “godlike”. I’m not aware of any difference between a deity and a god, so I don’t really see why you’d use Deity instead of God for the same joke….
          Having said that, better luck with New Year’s Eve! let’s see how you manage to destroy *that* for everyone all over the world, you fiend!

        2. Cubic says:

          That takes me back to the days when seemingly every m-f- had to use the word ‘deity’, yet spelled it ‘diety’. Fantastic. Come to think of it much like the recent craze for turning ‘free rein’ (run without my guidance, horse) into ‘free reign’ (some sort of king?).

          1. Joshua says:

            Don’t forget how people in so many RPGs play a “Rouge” character.

            1. Cubic says:

              LOL, I want to forget, why do I have to remember?

  3. Joshua says:

    The side-scroller was definitely my era and in my mid-40s, I am now really, really bad at them. While I still love Super* Mario World and Super Metroid, I generally die too quickly in most of the other mainstays to really enjoy them that much. Super Castlevania IV I remember liking a lot as a teenager, but when I play it now I never die to health loss, just missing jumps into pits. Super Contra III I can set the difficulty down to easy and crank up the extra lives and I can still likely die before I reach the first boss. At least I can say that I always sucked at Super Star Wars and Super Ghouls and Ghosts, but the rest seem to be harder to me now then I remember as a kid. So, most of these games just end up being “die, die, die”, and I don’t get much enjoyment out of them.

    “Beat Em Ups, on the other hand, tend to not be as appealing to me anymore (I loved them as a teenager) because the game play just seems so shallow.

    *For those too young to remember, the SNES had the annoying habit to call a lot of their games “Super”.

    1. Lino says:

      Super Castlevania IV I remember liking a lot as a teenager, but when I play it now I never die to health loss, just missing jumps into pits.

      Although I’m one of those old curmudgeons who always says how things were better in the good ‘ol days, I am SO thankful to modern platformers for taking away some of your health instead of outright killing you when you fall down a pit. In terms of “realism” it doesn’t make a lot of sense – bottomless pits and spikes are deadly in real life (I guess? Never actually seen one). But from a gameplay perspective, missing a jump is on the same level as getting hit by an enemy. It’s a mistake, sure, but a small one. Why should one be punished so much more severely than the other?

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Honestly, speaking as another survivor child of the eighties and ‘ze’ good ol’ dayz,’ I kinda actually miss the Super and 64 naming convention.

        It was a bit goofy at times, sure, but you could see right on the box what games were (usually) unique to the system you owned, and thus, usually most worth paying attention to.

        Don’t think it would work even by those goofy standards with [Name Here] Switch, PS4 or whatever stupid combo of X’s the current XBOX got named and I cannot be arsed to look up… but I think the naming scheme itself could work just fine if the next crop of consoles got some more fancy-full names again.

        …Come to think about it, I’m shocked Nintendo stopped doing that. Mario Wii U? The jokes, and thus marketing, would have written themselves.

    2. Steve C says:

      Side-scrollers were also my era and in my mid-40s, I look back at them and don’t think that game play was that great. For me, side-scrollers fall into the same category as old Sierra games. Amazing for its time. Now… not so much. I don’t remember why I even liked them at the time.

      1. Joshua says:

        I’m sure it would be a similar experience. I remember liking Space Quest, Police Quest, and King’s Quest IV (the only Sierra game I ever got max points on) at the time, but I’m sure I would find them to be annoyingly pedantic and punitive these days. Heck, I remember falling down the damn stairs and dying a ton in King’s Quest IV, and one of my other strongest memories of that game was having to save scum the whale section to keep from sliding down the tongue while climbing out while also trying to figure out the correct verbiage to “tickle uvula” to make the whale sneeze.

        Also, with my SNES Classic and especially access to old NES and SNES games on my Switch, I realized I have a LOT less patience for many games of the that era these days. I guess back then games were much more expensive in a relative sense so we put up with them a lot more than we would in the current day where we would quickly write off a game and uninstall it if we weren’t having fun.

  4. John says:

    When I was a kid, Nintendo platformers made me angry. I’d be playing, say, Metroid, and as Samus was falling through the void I’d change the direction of her fall from left to right and back again by pressing on the d-pad, all the while complaining to anyone who’d listen about how unrealistic that was. Why I thought I wanted realism in Super Mario Bros. or Metroid I couldn’t say. The first platformer that really clicked for me was Prince of Persia, among whose rotoscoped virtues is a fixed jump arc for the main character. But I must have gotten over myself by the time the 16-bit era rolled around, because I do not recall being offended by the jump physics in Sonic the Hedgehog.

    To this day, I do not play a lot of platformers, which is in some ways a real shame. There are some really beautiful platformers out there and I hate to miss out. But I find modern platformers where the platforming is the point incredibly difficult. I got fairly far in Guacamelee before I gave up, but it was a brutal, punishing slog. The complicated and precisely-timed sequences of inputs that game sometimes required of me in order to get from one side of the screen to the next were torture. I prefer platformers where the platforming is in the service of something else and not necessarily the primary challenge. Prince of Persia does require a certain amount of quick reflexes, but that’s all in the sword-fighting. The platforming is slow and deliberate. Mark of the Ninja is all about stealth (and, if you’re me, stealth kills) and the platforming is for the most part fairly flexible. There’s usually more than one way to get from Point A to Point B.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      I actually really enjoy platformers and I found Guacamelee to be frustrating as hell. And trust me, if you think it’s bad just following the main story, I promise you, trying to get the hidden items is the exact opposite of joy. Of course, what really doesn’t help is the fact that your directional special moves are tied to random buttons rather than, you know, directions, as it should. So in the middle of a complicated series of jumps where you have to constantly change directions your muscle memory tells you should be able to use the directional pad to go there, but instead you have to remind you of which of this randomly-chosen buttons is the one that dashes to the left side, which one goes up and so on.

      It is an insanely terrible design choice, and I have no choice but to believe these games are so popular due to their art style or that most people never finish them, because the gameplay input drives me insane.

      1. John says:

        Well, that’s some comfort. I struggled with some of the platforming sequences in Guacamelee in almost exactly the same way that I struggle with long, complex combos in fighting games. The difference is that long complex combos are how you demonstrate mastery in fighting games. You don’t actually need to be able to do them in order to have fun or even to win.

      2. Gndwyn says:

        Playing Guacamelee on the PC, I was able to rebind the special controls so they made more intuitive directional sense to me and that helped some, but I still got to the end of my platforming patience before I got to the end of the game.

        1. Lino says:

          Same. Some of those bonus platforming sections were so brutal that I wasn’t even satisfied after beating them. I was just glad they were over!

          That being said though, I really like how the traversal abilities were also used for combat. In a lot of metroidvanias the “door-unlocking” abilities are practically useless outside of opening said “doors”.

      3. Bew says:

        I’m not sure about the second, but the first game was very much built around an xbox 360 controller. Instead of randomly chosen, your abilities there are color coded to match both the block type they destroy and the button you press to trigger them.

    2. The Rocketeer says:


      I like you.

      But you know too much.

      Get in the car.

      Don’t try to scream.

      1. John says:


        Not unless you offer me candy, you stranger.

  5. Lino says:

    I did not know about that Portal mod/fan expansion! Actually, I probably heard you talking about it on the podcast, but forgot about it. In any case, thanks for reminding me. I’ll definitely check it out!

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    So, let’s see, new stuff I played this year and enjoyed:

    I’m actually a bit amazed that my PC can even run Resident Evil Village, but it did, and I played through the game several times. I know you don’t care about this franchise (though I maintain you refuse to give a chance to the really good games in the series, like 7 or 2 remake), but I thoroughly enjoyed this one from beginning to end. It also has, despite its general ligther tone in comparison to its predecessor, one of the most horrifying sequences in survival horror history.

    TOEM was one of the games I tried a demo for in one of those Steam demo events, and I fell in love with instantly. Its cute, hand-drawn art style is very appealing, and the gameplay (which consists on solving puzzles by taking pictures) is very relaxing.

    My first Game of the Year contender is Unmetal. This is a satire of the Metal Gear franchise, but more specifically of the classic MSX games that started it all. There’s a lot of humor regarding the franchise itself and videogames in general, but what makes it great is that it’s a genuinely good Metal Gear game. Rare is the parody that worries about being a good product as well instead of just making cheap jokes these days, but this is an example of developers who really cared to offer a good product.

    Undying is still on Early Access, so a lot of things are going to be changing, but I like what I’ve played so far. It’s a survival/crafting game set in a zombie apocalypse, which I know sounds derivative, but what really attracted me about it was its premise: you play as a mother who was bitten and knows the clock is ticking for her, so she has to worry about using the time she has left to help her son learn to survive on his own. So not only you have to worry about surviving, foraging and crafting, but also use mechanics to teach your son how to do all of those things while taking care of protecting him and not letting yourself succumb to your infection too soon, lest you end up harming him, I know it sounds like a giant escort mission, but it’s very well crafted.

    I’m pretty sure The Darkside Detective is not from this year, but its sequel The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark is, and I played these one after another. They’re classic pixel-art point & click adventure games with a lot of humor and a minimalistic art style. Nothing majorly special about them, but I found them quite entertaining.

    Of course, my second GOTY contender is Metroid Dread. This game’s announcement came as a complete surprise to me a few months ago, as there were no news in the franchise front and this particular one had been apparently abandoned years ago, but here we are. I almost couldn’t believe it until I got the box in my hands. It turned out, of course, to be an absolutely brilliant game and I loved every second of it.

    The last one is Unpacking. Another relaxing experience with a cute visual style, this game consists on unpacking (duh) your belongings after each moving and placing them in the correct areas of the house (i.e. don’t put your shampoo bottle on the kitchen or your laptop in the toilet). The really interesting part about it is the way you discover how the story of your life develops as new items show up in every move, some old ones stay, others disappear, sometimes you get an idea of how your financial situation has changed and how your love life is doing. It’s all subtle yet rich background storytelling, and I love it.

    I was ready to add a few more games to this list, but it turns out they were from last year. I’ve completely lost the notion of time.

    1. Lino says:

      Unpacking – the game that desperately needs a sequel called Packing, where you learn how to properly pack your stuff, you raving mad lunatic! I mean, I get it for the level where she’s moving to her college dorm – it’s the first time she’s ever moved. It’s understandable that you find a pan in the bathroom stuff box. But continuing to do it at the later stages of her, means that this woman actually has a problem! Maybe the stuff that doesn’t stay around is justt things she forgot to pack, which is now lost forever. And as she’s mourning those lost possessions, she’s going into a deep spiral of disorder which causes the problem to repeat throughout the game!

      Joking aside, it looks like a really chill game. I’ve watched some of the first levels, and I’m seriously considering getting it.

      Also, I hadn’t heard of TOEM, and I’ve just added it to my Wishlist.

      1. Syal says:

        TOEM… Temple… Of… Elemental…

        1. Rho says:


          I can just imagine the module now: a bunch of bored elementals who mostly hang around doing absolutely nothing, and also don’t have any treasure, and ignore any adventurers except to sigh dramatically, look pointedly at them, and clean up the mess they made until the adventurers feel awkward and go home.

      2. Dreadjaws says:

        You know, as someone who’s had to move several times in his life, at some point you just want to be done with it as quick as possible, so you stick any last-moment items in whatever box they fit in, so I found that sort of thing entirely realistic. Also, if someone is helping you do the packing I guarantee you they’ll put stuff in the craziest places possible with no rhyme or reason.

        1. Syal says:

          I haven’t moved often, but there’s very much reusing of boxes so that the labels no longer apply.

          “I’m sorry, you can’t mail alcohol.”
          “No that’s just the box, it’s all books inside.”
          “Well, you’ll still have to cover it. So this and the “Books” box are all books?”
          “No, just the alcohol box is books. The “Books” box is all kitchenware.”

          1. Philadelphus says:

            I recently moved back to Hawaii after four year away, where some incredibly kind friends kept a few boxes of things for me*; I’m still slowly unpacking stuff, so I’ve currently got sitting in the corner the 5- or 6-year old box of a vacuum cleaner that I sold or gave away (memory is hazy) when I left**.

            *I was pretty broke at the time and was always intending to have the stuff shipped on when I was a little better off financially, but then I ended up moving back.

            **I looked around for a new vacuum cleaner when I got back, and boy howdy has the technology improved while I was away! Instead of the heavy, clunky, corded upright I had that was a chore to get out and manoeuver the cord around, and couldn’t reach corners or under furniture or pretty much anywhere other than an open area well, I’ve now got a “stick vacuum”: cordless, light enough to hold in one hand, nearly effortless to get out for a quick spot of cleaning, and with multiple interchangeable nozzles for all sorts of situations. We truly are living in the future when vacuuming can actually be fun!

            1. eaglewingz says:

              I’m still waiting for the future where my humanoid robot maid does it after fixing me a drink, walking the dog, and tutoring the kids.

          2. Bubble181 says:

            ….You had boxes that didn’t include books?

            I drove some of my helpers completely insane by having about 20 boxes of “books” for the library, seperate boxes for cookbooks (kitchen), computer books (office), philosphy and history books (study), syllabuses and study books (basement), old family books and comics (attic), and when they started opening other boxes, they found even more books inside and I was like, well, yes, those books go in the toilet area, they’re for light reading on the pot…Those, yes, well, ok ,they go in the living room because they’re pretty and ornamental….Yes, I did put some books on cocktail mixing and history of beer in with the liquor cabinet stuff, that’s where I want those….Ah, yes, funny story, those books in the DIY/appliances box, look, sometimes you need a book on how to replacre an electrical socket, OK?
            And yes;, I do understand being a bit upset when you pick up a box labeled “underwear” and it turns out to be half-full of boxes and twice as heavy as expected, but look, the Kama Sutra and these other….books of a certain nature, they belong in the bedroom, right? Right.

            I may or may not have a book problem. My book problem may or may not be not having enough space to put all my books.

            1. Philadelphus says:

              The only kind of book problem there is.

    2. Duoae says:

      Maybe you could spolier the section you’re talking about here for RE:Village? I’d love to know what, specifically, you’re talking about!

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        I’m talking about the basement of the Benevento mansion area. If you haven’t played the game, I really can’t give you a description. You really have to be playing it to feel it. It’s not the same just watching it on YouTube.

    3. Chad+Miller says:

      I just finished a standout for me this year: The Forgotten City. The elevator pitch is that it’s a time loop like in other recent adventure-ish games like The Outer Wilds or Twelve Minutes, but in a cursed underground city spun off from a Skyrim quest mod, with a hefty chunk of the gameplay being Fallout-style dialogue. I’m currently in the process of trying to find the last of the game’s multiple endings.

      I haven’t played the original mod but there are times when I suspect I’m seeing vestiges of it poking through (including the decision to make the characters mostly-roman since I imagine some if not all of them originally wore Imperial clothes), but the writer definitely took the change in setting and ran with it. Including fun side details like Latin graffiti

      1. SidheKnight says:

        Oh I forgot that I played that game this year, and it’s honestly one of the best games I’ve ever played. The fact that I have an interest in ancient history made it even more fun for me.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          After beating the game I watched the NoClip video about it and thought it was cool that he got a classical history professor to act as a playtester/consultant (specifically calling out the purple carrots as one of the smaller details that sprung from this)

  7. desu says:

    There is an interesting review on Deathloop from UnderTheMayo (a niche-known Doom Eternal player and reviewer). While partially subjective, it highlights some internal contradictions in Deathloop’s design and mechanics, which can explain why the game doesn’t “grab” despite having potentially good premise and concept.

    1. Ophelia says:

      Went to check out that review but I had to check back out again once he complained about how you can’t switch your loadout mid-mission so you don’t know what to expect or what to prepare for…in a game that repeats the same day over and over again with the same maps and visionary encounters each time. There’s just NO WAY he can prepare for a mission he’s likely to see multiple times over on a single playthrough.

      1. desu says:

        Technically, he didn’t complain that “you don’t know what to expect” in terms of a level itself; he specifically notes that the encounters are always the same. He complained that inability to switch loadout discouraged him from experimenting with different powers and combos, as it would require to restart the whole day from scratch if the chosen loadout don’t fit the expected combat flow.

        In that context, “not knowing what to expect” is related to the applicability of different power and weapon combinations.

  8. Dragmire says:

    Games I played this year:

    Inscryption: Wonderful game, kind of wished it had a branching path to the third act though.

    Loop Hero: Cool game but feels unfinished. There was slots for equipment that couldn’t be used because they weren’t implemented yet.

    Ender Lilies: Only a couple hours in. Nice music and good looking but I’m not sure I like the movement yet. I hear it gets better later.

    Metroid Dread: Well made but not for me. Got frustrated when the game kept blocking me from backtracking to explore. I know I can explore the full map at the end but that’s not how I enjoy playing Metroidvania style games.

    Super Robot Wars 30: Expensive game for what ends up being dumb fun(giant robot and anime fan service). It’s fun but I’ve put it on hold due to the dlc introducing bugs. I’ll get back to it after the dlc and bug fixes are done.

    Command & Conquer 3: Okay, not new but I’m playing it for the first time now. Anyway, hugely frustrating. Got stuck on the Alexandria map on easy difficulty and looked up why it was so hard. Turns out that the devs balance patched the game’s multiplayer and had it affect the single player campaign. Now I have to figure out how to beat this game with half the resources the campaign expects me to have…

    1. Fizban says:

      Loop Hero- did you unlock and use the Armory tile? There are three classes, each with different equipment combinations, and different extra slots that are opened when you use the armory. I found it seemed pretty necessary for game progression.

      I myself stopped after I beat the final boss the first time. There were still plenty of perks and dialogue to unlock, but I guess the reward still felt too small for the effort when I had already rushed through the game and was tired (at 48 hours total over a couple weeks).

      1. Dragmire says:

        I logged 65.9 hours and unlocked everything the game had at the time and beat all bosses including the secret ones. There were a couple equipment slots that looked broken(like, literally cracked image) and couldn’t be used. I believe they were the gauntlet and belt. From the looks of it, they’ve been implemented since release but I haven’t seen enough content added to go back to it now.

  9. Syal says:

    Well, I guess I’ll also save my top three 2021 games for the next post.

    So the non-top-three 2021 games I played this year are:

    And that’s about it for 2021. Tune in next week for the top three!

    1. Damiac says:

      Hey … was objectively top 3 and I won’t hear otherwise.

      My top 3 games of 2021 were oxygen not included, path of exile, and rocket league, none of which came out in 2021.

      1. Fred Starks says:

        Even …’s title is only 3 characters long. That alone nets it a 3rd place.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Only if you write it out with three periods rather than the ellipsis Unicode character it’s officially styled as.

          1. Bubble181 says:

            Not in the original German, as can be seen by a close-up look at the in-game logo!

      2. Syal says:

        That’s the trick, I’ve played a lot of games this year, but not very many new ones.

        …that said, I’ve inadvertently started a fourth 2021 game*, and am left in the awkward position of trying to figure out whether I should talk about it here, or make it the fourth game on the Top Three List next week.

        *(I thought Bravely Default 2 was much older than this. This isn’t my fault!)

  10. RamblePak64 says:

    Deathloop was an interesting game that I kept seeing marketing for, kept being hyped up as a release, and when it finally came out the only “buzz” I had heard was that it was too easy and, wait, no, those people just haven’t played enough and the A.I. gets smarter later and it becomes more challenging. Then, complete radio silence until the Game Awards nominations rolled in.

    Perhaps this was due to being removed from social media, or the fact that what gaming YouTube channels I follow never really covered it until the end of the year. SkillUp finally had a video, and his verdict was to not recommend it. Now, there’s a 50/50 sometimes on whether I’ll agree with SkillUp. For example, I do not recommend Narita Boy despite his positive praise of it, nor do I recommend becoming a Destiny 2 addict after having spent enough hours on it myself. On the other hand, even if I’m warmer to Halo: Infinite than he is, I very much understand his feelings, and his review of Guardians of the Galaxy was effectively the final push to get me to purchase the game. I don’t know if I can say that he’s an opinion that I can trust, but I at least respect where he’s coming from.

    It is for that reason that his footage of Deathloop has me certain it is not for me (also: watching his review, I did keep wondering how you’d respond to his own loose definition of “Immersive Sim” since it seems to definitely come from a different direction than yours). To me, Deathloop is clearly not an Immersive Sim, but regardless of whether it is or not, it seems to do very little of what a game of this sort ought to be doing. In fact, it does even less than I expected, which was a singular world that you would have to learn and navigate through different approaches and playthroughs and learn how one event impacted another. I especially would have anticipated this given how heavily the game was being advertised for the PlayStation 5, whose SSD is basically the one marketing piece they hinge on for delivering “next-gen” game experiences. Lo and behold, their console exclusive instead turns me off because it’s focus of certain elements being in the menus just feels so… antiquated.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a more thorough write-up coming next year for Deathloop, but on the whole I’d be curious to see where your thoughts compare and contrast with SkillUp’s.

  11. Jabrwock says:

    I still don’t know why I’m supposed to care about breaking this stupid time loop. I guess my character is tired of the loop and wants to do something else?

    That was basically the gist I got from watching some playthroughs. The protagonist wants out. Although I agree they do a crap job of conveying why. The intro almost feels like the protagonist is doing it to spite the antagonist, and you almost have to make up your own reason as you go along and learn about what whackadoodles the rest of the science team has turned into now that there’s no consequence to their actions.

  12. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Weird, roguelikes/lites came up and I haven’t seen anyone mention Hades yet. I feel further justified in bringing it up since it is something I’ve slowly played through over a large chunk of this year and while I’m absolutely not trying to shove it down your throat I personally loved it. It’s got a solid character based story. beautiful writing, different weapons some of which encourage “getting in there” rushes and some feel more “playing it safe” and there is overall a lot of flavorful writing*. There are some roguelite mechanics allowing you to invest resources so failed runs aren’t completely wasted and later on the difficulty both becomes customizable through selecting what aspects of it get increased and there is an optional difficulty setting called “god mode” which gives you a stacking 2% damage resistance every time you die up to 80% total, so if you turn it on the difficulty gets lower while at the same time giving you room to improve (and the game doesn’t “judge” you for using it by locking stuff out far as I can tell, I turned it on when I felt I was starting to feel fatigued a bit and I regretted not doing so sooner because for me it completely rejuvenated the enjoyment of the game for me). I technically have a few things I could still unlock but I feel like I got what mattered for me from the game and it’s one of those rare titles that I feel sorry is over, if they did something like “Zagreus visits the Norse pantheon” DLC or spinoff I’d buy it in an instant.

    In other highlights Psychonauts 2. A rare title I bought on release (also available on gamepass). Did not regret it, gameplay was fun, the humor mostly landed, the aesthetics were cool, the story was heartwarming. I feel I still like the first game better because it feels more “out there” in both story and level design but I will readily admit the sequel has an overall stronger and more cohesive narrative.

    *Each individual god may have lines varying depending on your story progress, being in the early or late part of the dungeon, going through the run fast or slow, having high or low health, having a specific weapon, other gods you encontered on this particular run and so on.

    1. Baron Tanks says:

      I love me some Hades, been giving it a whirl again as a buddy picked it up recently. I think you’re not seeing much of it mentioned here as it came up a lot last year and that’s I think also technically when it released from early access, IIRC.

      1. Syal says:

        Yeah, Steam’s got the official release date as September 2020.

    2. Lino says:

      Hard double recommended on both Hades and Psychonauts 2. The latter of which is one of the very few games I’m considering 100%-ing. I don’t know if I’ll actually do it though, because all that figment-hunting is actually really hard. Especially when I’m only missing 4 or 5 per level. It’s really hard looking them up in a walkthrough, because even when I run through the level like the walkthrough describes, I’m still missing a few…

  13. Octal says:

    If you’re a fan of the Portal universe or gameplay, then this one is easily worth your time.

    I am, and this is exactly the kind of thing I like, and I hadn’t heard about it before! Thanks for the rec; I know what I’m playing next.

  14. Richard says:

    Prey: Enjoyed the first few hours, then suddenly lost interest (in Crew Quarters, I think?)

    Subnautica: Enjoying this quite a lot, but unsure whether I’ll finish it.
    My main issue here is the total lack of any automated mapping whatsoever.
    A world with holographic displays and the ability to mark exact locations in space yet completely unable to show you a map of the seafloor you’ve visited is a very specific set of technology.

  15. I haven’t played Portal 2: Reloaded, mostly because I’ve had other stuff to do and I’ve had very bad experiences with fan made content of Valve properties in the past (jump cut to screaming at Black Mesa), but I find it intriguing that you say the writing is of good quality, because one of the big reasons I had for not trusting it to be any good is that they called it Reloaded of all things.

    Reloaded? Seriously? They might as well have called it Portal 2: Revelations. There are plenty of physics puns one could have made about having time travel or about having a third portal and they went with Reloaded? Triple Point, Three Body Problem, Third Law, Triple Slit Experiment, Fourth Dimension, those are just stuff I found in like five minutes of googling keywords like “quantum physics three.” Hell just calling it Time Portal would have been fine. This sounds petty of me, but I don’t think it actually is. If you’re making a puzzle game and you want to convince me that the puzzles will be clever and interesting, calling it the lamest laziest most unoriginal thing out there does not inspire confidence. I heard this analogy once: it’s like if someone gives you a birthday present and it’s wrapped in a used fast food bag. You don’t know what the present actually is, but somehow it feels like they might not have put in as much effort as you’d like. Why am I the only person who’s mad about this?

    You don’t even reload the portal gun.

    1. Richard says:

      The name is indeed why I haven’t played it yet.

      Portal Stories: Mel is brilliant, by the way

    2. Syal says:

      Portal 2: Retribution.

  16. Zekiel says:

    Well this was a year when I first played some splendid games, none of which came out in 2021… Hades is absolutely amazing but terrible for my RSI; Disco Elysium is astonishingly original and probably the funniest game I’ve played in years; Total War Warhammer has a ridiculous name but is incredibly fun. I also replayed Prey and Deadfire this year, which means it was a pretty awesome year for games.

  17. Cubic says:

    Just today. I finished A Way Out with my bro, a PS4 coop prison break game that was my stand-out for the year. Not very difficult though you have to be two players, side by side. Absolutely loved it.


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