Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Best of 2022: Top 15 Games

What a weird year for those of us who follow videogames.

The flow of the annual release schedule remains a frustrating thing to predict year-to-year, but it took on an extra-strange shape in 2022: as far as the wider triple-A scene was concerned, virtually all the big game action was localised to the first and last quarters of the year. That meant enough of a relative chasm in the middle to allow me to complete a massive-scale catch-up project I never thought I’d have the time to do, but it also meant an unusually dense December full of release dates that didn’t blink for once. So it’s no surprise that, with a couple of big-name exceptions, this GOTY countdown is defined by the only two consistent sources of quality game releases all year: prestige indies and the Nintendo Switch.

Single-player games don’t qualify unless I played them for over five hours or finished them, which this year eliminates *deep breath* Sonic Frontiers, The Callisto Protocol, Tinykin, Harvestella, Soul Hackers 2, Live A Live, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, AI: nirvanA Initiative, Card Shark, The DioField Chronicle, Metal: Hellsinger, and Evil West from contention, even though any of those games could have genuinely challenged for a place on the list had I got to play more of them – and I’m probably forgetting quite a few others. Extra-special shout-out to Chained Echoes, High on Life and Sports Story, which arrived at the eleventh hour and rocketed up in hype after I had already started the year-end writing process in earnest and had absolutely no hope of playing them.

Parentheses indicate the platform (or platforms – cross-save is truly a wild concept) where I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Stray (PS5)

2022 was a year positively teeming with quality indie games, and they ran the gamut of genres and presentation styles. Only one of them was really trying to follow the triple-A game design formula. It was the cat game. The game where you play as a literal cat. In a way, that kinda made it this year’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits: a Sony exclusive with a wide linear level design structure, evolving stakes, tempting PSN trophy design and great use of the Dualsense controller; it is thankfully much easier than Kena though. Stray also has an excellent soundtrack, goes to some pretty wild places in terms of its oddly endearing AI supporting cast, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Good stuff to kick us off.

14. Triangle Strategy (NS)

Triangle Strategy can perhaps consider itself one of the unluckier victims of 2022’s release schedule quirks, hitting in the middle of arguably Square Enix’s worst PR month in years when it already had enough to deal with regarding its terrible name and warped fandom expectations. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s tempting to imagine an alternative situation where it let, say, the Tactics Ogre Reborn remaster go first to allow it’s story-first tacical gameplay approach room to breathe around JRPG July or something. But contextual frustrations aside, this game is a treat, fusing a meaty Game of Thrones-infused narrative epic with stunning artwork and rewarding, character-driven progression to add intimate significance to on-field strategic moves and major off-field democratic choices alike. Speaking of which…

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Best of 2022: Top 10 Gaming Moments

As long as there are new games, there are moments within those games that will come to define the year in which they first appeared. Future mentions of that year will hurtle these immortalised blends of digital art and human experience to the forefront of the mind like tiny, delicious morsels of nostalgic goodness, transporting the player back to a crystallised slice of time when experiencing this medium felt truly worthwhile.

Actually, that may just be me.

Here are my top ten favourite moments I had with videogames in 2022. Big ol’ spoilers ahead, particularly for a fair few story endings.

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VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

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10. Exiled – Pokemon Legends: Arceus

Raise your hand if you thought the cel-shaded Pokemon spin-off about rounding up historical versions of fan-favourite creatures in steam-powered Pokeballs was capable of an affecting story moment putting you in the shoes of a shunned outcast after an entire town turns on you during a crisis, forcing you to perform a silent walk of shame as everyone judges you for something that isn’t your fault. Yeah, I’m not raising my hand either.

9. Mammoth – Horizon: Forbidden West

Even more than the first game, Horizon: Forbidden West is built on interlocking systems; we’re not talking obscene Breath of the Wild physics shenanigans here, but we are dealing with a richer suite of combat options that builds on Zero Dawn‘s greatest strength to cook up a veritable buffet of viable attack angles in most situations. After throwing you into a handful of scenarios designed to tease out some of these options, the game’s first encounter with a resting, fully decked-out robotic mammoth (or at least the first one I found) is an absolute peach. I almost beat it once with the head-on approach, then after reloading the save tried a completely different combination of weapons, weak points and environmental hazards to chip away and take it down. It’s a sensational spectacle, especially once you factor in all the gorgeous particle effects and the electronic/symphonic hybrid battle music – which goes hard.

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Best of 2022: Top 10 Disappointments

Another year, another increasingly personal and petty list full of stuff that upset me personally about the media I consumed in 2022. And in a year filled with more deeply upsetting stories about the people who work on said media, that is absolutely worth repeating more than ever: this list exists as a chance to whinge and complain about the end products that make their way into consumer’s hands and have a bit of fun getting a bunch of first-world problems off my chest. As a normally quite optimistic person, I wouldn’t bother to start this otherwise positive two-week-long celebration with a negative list if that wasn’t the case. And my oh my, were there some petty things to complain about in 2022. Time to dig in.

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VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. No Hands on Deck Down Under

We are entering another golden age for dedicated portable gaming, roughly a decade after it was given its last rites across media outlets the world over. The Playstation Vita and the Wii U sure as hell didn’t save it from the threat of casual phone gaming, but the Nintendo Switch sure did – and now years later there’s a burgeoning handheld PC market bubbling up to fill the processing power gap left by the Switch’s ageing components. The golden child of this movement? Valve’s Steam Deck, which has been in the hands of enthusiasts and influencers overseas for over a year now. Every few months Valve announces a few more worldwide territories for the hardware’s launch, and every few months Australia fails to make the cut. Thank goodness for the AyaNeo range.

9. The Dinosaur Movie That’s Somehow Too Big

2022 was actually a really good year for movies; I personally found actual disappointments not only hard to come by, but vastly outnumbered by genuinely wonderful surprises. Alas, I can’t very well have this entire list be videogame-related, so I’m giving a dishonourable shout-out to Jurassic World: Dominion. Somehow a perfect fan-servicing cast and more onscreen dinosaurs than ever added up to an overblown, unfocused mess unwilling to pick a lane or convincingly land any punches. All-up there was probably one 2022 movie more disappointing than Jurassic World: Dominion, but this was still probably the least fun I had in the cinema all year.

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The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation VIII

Games/Expansions
Pokémon Sword
Pokémon Shield
The Isle of Armor
The Crown Tundra

Platform
Switch

Region
Galar

New Pokemon
89

+7. Into the slipstream

If you had to summarise the entire legacy – the highs and the lows – of the main eighth generation Pokemon games in just one word, “streamlined” would be pretty close to bang-on. Just about everything Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield did for the series seemed hell-bent on trimming fat, tucking in corners and straightening out paths. This post will come back to this theme repeatedly, but we start with all the miscellaneous quality of life improvements that make going back to older generation games just a little bit tougher after playing Sword or Shield.

The headlining improvement in this area was surely the ability to access the player’s boxes from almost anywhere in the game world, swapping a Pokemon out from storage into the party with a couple of button presses on the clean new user interface. A one-button save shortcut, the entirely fresh autosave option, non-intrusive activities to allow boxed Pokemon to grow (goodbye Festival Plaza and good riddance), combining the Affection and Friendship stats into one mechanic, wild Pokemon models visible in the overworld (a welcome feature brought over from the Let’s Go spin-offs), a proper audio balance menu, bikes that can surf, and the consolidation of several useful features traditionally locked to specific cities into the most useful Pokemon Centers in history all add up to a smoother moment-to-moment experience than ever before.

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10 Games From the Last 10 Years I Should’ve Ranked Higher

I thought I’d never do this, but ten years gives you a bit of a stretch to think.

It takes time, careful consideration and countless drafts to finalise an annual videogame countdown; some would say such an abundance of effort is a waste. But as far as I’m concerned it’s all fine and dandy, because the result is a ranking that might as well be cast in iron. Once published, it’s not just that I back my choices confidently; the order I’ve chosen becomes unquestionable canon within my head, ready to reference at a moment’s notice as if it was as tangible and unchanging as a musty library book on a shelf.

But I’m also human, and looking back on a decade worth of Game of the Year countdowns earlier this year pushed up an eyebrow or two. Not only that, but the absences of a few great games I played too late from some past years’ lists now stick out as annoying missed opportunities under the cold glare of hindsight. But what if there was a way for me to purge those small frustrations – gathering as they have over years – via a nice neat list? Well, luckily there is, and you’re about to read the result.

Of course there’s always a danger with this kind of project that picking at one thread will unravel several more. So to avoid a chaotic, sprawling tinker-fest and the potential 50+ item list that may have produced, I set up a few tiny rules:

  • Games that might have hypothetically risen up a list just because I overrated titles appearing above them cannot qualify – no Steven Bradburys here, positive vibes only;
  • Even if my newfound appreciation for one of these ten games has arrived courtesy of a newer, shinier and/or more accessible version of said game, I must make an effort to judge it based on the version(s) available in that relevant year;
  • Most importantly of all: I must be able to justify these inflated rankings as if I was still in the year they were published, but had way more free time (or just better time management). This is probably the trickiest part and there’s obviously no way I can do it flawlessly, but I’ll try.

Persona 4 Golden

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Original Position: 4th
Where It Should’ve Gone: 1st

Starting off with a bit of a free hit here, as once I completed it Persona 4 Golden landed in my all-time videogame top five – and it hasn’t left that club since.

Looking back on my janky first public GOTY list today is a cringe-inducing experience for me – I sure did make some sweeping statements about Halo 4‘s multiplayer – but it’s surprisingly easy to put myself in the somewhat rigid mental space I was in a decade (!) ago, because the videogame analysis zeitgeist was in such a distinctly turbulent place that hasn’t quite been replicated in any year since.

2012 was the last full year of a GFC-stretched console generation; incessant commentators predicted the industry’s downfall as two woefully mismanaged new platforms began their all-too-short lives. Major triple-A releases were in short supply, and as those ten main list entries and five (unexplained) honorable mentions reflect, the industry was only just beginning to erase the prestige line between full physical game releases and “downloadable” games, as we used to call them. Despite their quality, there is just no way the 2012 version of me would have been able to give either Journey or The Walking Dead a fair crack.

Still, one of those aforementioned new platforms was the Playstation Vita, and I played arguably its best game over an intense four-month period straddling the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

I probably haven’t written enough about Persona 4 Golden over the years considering the special place it holds in my heart – perhaps a better chance to dive into all that in earnest will arrive another day. For now all I’ll say is that the very best parts of the game take place much further into its hefty length than I had the time to reach by the end of December 2012, and even if that weren’t the case, the game (and series) has a knack of making you appreciate its characters and setting steadily more the longer you spend playing.

As good as Pokemon White Version 2 is – and if anything, its seam-bursting suite of content and still-unique approach to storytelling within the mainline Pokemon series has only made it more revered in 2022 – P4G still has it beaten for legacy. Had I somehow managed to play at warp speed and finish it before the end of 2012 the game’s impact on me may have been dulled slightly, but it’s hard to see a world where it wouldn’t have been the first-ever Vagrant Rant Game of the Year.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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Original Position: Honorable Mentions
Where It Should’ve Gone: 5th

I don’t know where my head was at for this one. This is the only game on the list that I haven’t played at all since writing the original countdown, meaning the considerable appreciation growth curve I’ve been on since has come about purely through the added context of a chorus of critical voices praising its many design accomplishments. All the little ways decorated developer Retro Studios pushed past the expected bare-minimum quality line of the early-2010s 2D platformer add up over a meaty campaign loaded up with wondrous mechanical ideas and packed with deviously-hidden secrets. No new idea outstays its welcome, yet each one is explored with a near-perfect difficulty curve. The visual presentation is artistically stunning, the controls are fluid, the musical tracks often soar. And the weird thing is that I knew all this while I was playing through the game in co-op with a mate.

The problem for both its initial reputation – and indeed my 2014 ranking of the game – is that premium-priced 2D platformers felt like they were a dime a dozen throughout the very late 2000s into the early 2010s. Nintendo was responsible for the lion’s share of these, and the company’s comparative lack of output in other genres ensured a palpable fatigue among fan circles that was difficult to avoid. Amusingly enough, Tropical Freeze was essentially the last of them, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

Nonetheless, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a 2D platforming masterwork, and belongs right under the one-two punch of the Danganronpa titles and Nintendo’s formidable Kart/Smash Wii U combo on that 2014 list. I’m convinced that with a bit more time spent ruminating on the game, I would have – and should have – given it the rank it deserved.

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I Can’t Believe It’s Not E3! The Best Moments From June 2022 Hype Season

As an event trading on often delirious hype, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo has always been intimately familiar with the importance of expectation. So when, in February of 2022, the event’s governing body the ESA announced that E3 would not be taking place this year – not even in its pretty successful restricted 2021 format – the expectations of an entire industry were reset. Reset, perhaps for some, to the sprawling hodgepodge of digital showcases from 2020 that spanned multiple months, each stream slapped with a cheap sticker denoting either Geoff Keighley’s “Summer Game Fest”, “IGN’s Summer of Gaming”, or both. That year felt like a few enterprising marketing teams trying to make the most of an awful situation; on the other side of E3’s brief return, however, the atmosphere felt more calculated.

Trying to lasso together all the videogame announcement vehicles of various shapes and sizes that we’ve just seen rolling through gaming social media spaces these past two-and-a-bit weeks may seem unwieldy, but when compared to 2020, those stickers seem far more premium and better-aligned. Keighley and co. were clearly much more ready to step up in 2022. Though not all the traditional pillars were present this year, a proper “replacement” for E3 – should it officially go the way of the Dreamcast – at last looks not only possible but likely.

Was this 2022 edition of the all-too-short announcement season a success? That probably comes down to the comparisons you choose to make, but I for one had a grand old time. These are my ten favourite moments/trends from “Keigh3” 2022.

A Tone-Setting REveal

The lack of ESA oversight in 2022 meant videogame publishers didn’t have any particularly pressing reason to show up with the goods in June, and quite a few of the big guns took that as an invitation to walk right on by. Though it was a bit of a downer to see the absence of dedicated Nintendo or (arguably more shockingly) Ubisoft showcases within the traditional E3 period, Playstation pulled an ambush on regular E3 watchers by unleashing easily their best-ever State of Play program right at the beginning of June. And it began with a context-free release date, bringing exactly the right kind of what-is-going-on energy for which modern Capcom is so renowned. Then a Spanish guitar riff, a giant “R” in a very familiar font, and then bam- right into a confirmation of the long-rumoured, gorgeous-looking Resident Evil 4 remake.

To be clear, since leaving E3 behind years ago Sony has divided its hype-building trailer montages into an almost-annual “Playstation Showcase” (usually around September), where they tend to put their biggest announcements, and then lower-key, often third-party/single-title-focused “State of Play” shows scattered throughout the year. When one such show was slated for this June, it came with a disclaimer that this would be yet another third-party-dominated affair. But there are few bigger third parties to being along than Capcom, and so that RE4 trailer was more than just a look at a game I am beyond excited to play; it lifted the hype bar and set the tone for what an E3-free June could hold in store. The colourful re-reveal of Street Fighter 6 minutes later only backed that up (and there was plenty more in that show to get excited about).

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Best of 2021: Top 15 Games

You can try to tell me 2021 was a bad year for good videogames. Tell that to my backlog. Look it in the eyes and tell it.

Don’t get me wrong: 2021 definitely was, without a shadow of a doubt, a slow-starting year for videogames; maybe even the slowest since I started writing these lists. It was also a bit light on Playstation exclusives thanks to development delays. But this was also the first full year of a brand-new console generation out in the wild; the year League of Legends finally began to make good on its promise to expand into other genres (and a Netflix show too); the year Apple Arcade finally drew some attention from core gaming audiences with a suite of nostalgic releases and the exclusive new Mistwalker RPG Fantasian; the year the whole Pokemon Unite thing happened; the year Microsoft’s XCloud mobile streaming service expanded to PC, Xbox consoles themselves – and Australia.

There was real, exciting movement in the games industry throughout 2021, and the big games – eventually – followed suit. When they did arrive they were continuously scoring over 80 on review aggregate sites, leaving September in particular packed with games lining up to try and distract from one another. More than half of this list’s games come from the release window starting late August and going through October – and only one from traditional powerhouse November. A weird year indeed.

But a good one: I always set a five-hour playtime minimum for a game to qualify for this list, yet I’ve actually finished 12 out of the 15 games on this 2021 list (and two out of the remaining three are JRPGs). Any of my friends will tell you that’s a sky-high conversion rate for me. Quarantines will do that, but so will great videogames. It’s hard to believe I had no room this year for Hitman III, Scarlet Nexus, Returnal, Mario Party Superstars, Monster Hunter Rise, Monster Hunter Stories 2 or Deathloop – into which I put a combined 60+ hours, and all of which I enjoyed. I’ve never actually been in that kind of a position before.

If you don’t see a 2021 game on this page, I didn’t play it enough to qualify. Parentheses indicate on what platform(s) I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. New Pokemon Snap (NS)

Over the two decades since the original Pokemon Snap came out, the idea of a sequel has naturally been thrown around all kinds of Pokemon fan circles; what most nostalgia-seeped memories tend to forget, however (mine included), is just how short the original game was. Pretty much accidentally designed for the repeatable game rental market, you could see all the game’s content in an afternoon if you knew what you were doing. Knowing this Bandai Namco concocted the clever New Pokemon Snap, which is not only the sequel we’ve been asking for, but the significantly more substantial sequel we didn’t know we wanted.

Carrying many more areas stuffed with randomly-shifting occurences, stacked with secrets, and teeming with Pokemon hiding four different scoring poses each, the completionist player has a ton to do in New Pokemon Snap – even before the chunky free content update released months after launch. The week of near-day-long sessions I played with my siblings passing the controller around was an absolute blast.

14. Shin Megami Tensei V (NS)

As a “JRPG guy” without the time or attention span for the truly unforgiving genre entries these days, the entire mainline Shin Megami Tensei series has mostly passed me by. That finally changed with the long-awaited open-world-ish fifth entry, a truly ambitious shift for both the series and Nintendo – who slapped their publishing label on the game and gave it their main first-party slot right in the middle of November (knowing Pokemon was coming out the following week to clean house, sure, but it was still a big deal).

SMT V may not care all that much about its story or supporting human characters, but it stands as a shining testament to the merits of a rock-solid battle system using a crisp UI – especially when paired with deep team customisation mechanics built to last. Boasting a stunning main character design and truly rewarding nook-and-cranny exploration, this is a game I suspect I’ll be playing for a long time yet.

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Best of 2021: Top 10 Gaming Moments

While this year provided plenty of unscripted moments during the chaos of multiplayer videogames (I could probably make an entire second list made up of just Monster Hunter Rise, It Takes Two, Knockout City, WarioWare: Get It Together, and Halo Infinite shenanigans), I was fortunate enough to play through a ton of new single-player story-driven adventures in 2021, so only some of those multiplayer games make the cut. That’s not to say it wasn’t a really good year for playing games with friends – it really was – but it was also good eating for the spoiler-type moments that are so much fun to talk about at a time like this.

And so, much like with yesterday’s list, today needs a hefty spoiler warning. Proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

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10. Fireworks – Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

In late June 2021, we arrived once again at that special moment that comes around maybe twice a decade: The first exclusive videogame made for a new Playstation console by a Sony-owned studio. And Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is extraordinarily keen to mark that occasion with a celebration of both its own series history and the unique technical possibilities of the shiny new PS5. Our titular heroes must navigate a parade and re-enact key moments from the series (all of it went over my head personally, as a franchise newcomer) as beautiful effects whiz past them – then suffice to say things go wrong and the seams between dimensions start showing.

Cue colourful effects-laden battles, instant portal-based relocation and that money shot from the game’s first trailer with all the rapid-fire playable segments in entirely new worlds that load instantly. The fruits of Mark Cerny’s hardware design team in building that PS5 SSD storage interface are plain to see right here – and nowhere else in 2021. This is a breathtaking way to start a game, and the moment “next-gen” arrived for me.

9. Compton’s Cook-Off – Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 is an unbridled fever dream of level ideas, some of which feel almost purely conceptual – such as the psychedelic sense-collecting saturation overload that changes the game’s art style – and some almost too real – like the lavish casino as a direct metaphor for the American medical system. But the most ludicrously pitch-perfect combination of idea, presentation and gameplay I found in the game is Compton’s Cook-Off, a section where you must participate in a hilarious imaginary game show called “Ram It Down”.

You’re given anthropomorphic ingredients to pluck from the audience and place in bigger anthropomorphic kitchen appliances – which you must reach within a strict time limit using precise platforming towards increasingly-difficult recipe requirements – all while a boisterous television host throws sly taunts your way. The sequence is frequently hilarious, decently challenging and a ton of fun.

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Best of 2021: Top 10 Disappointments

I’m finding it even harder to be deliberately negative at the end of 2021 than at the end of 2020. It was a rougher year for me personally, but I know I’m not exactly alone there so let’s get to the point. It’s the same point as last year: There’s enough genuinely terrible stuff going on in the business of entertainment media, so this list is just gonna be real personal, real first-world and real petty.

What it will not be – for once – is gaming-only: the return of blockbuster movies with the rich potential to disappoint made sure of that. On that note, I’m giving a very light spoiler warning for No Time to Die.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. The Same Old Slow Aussie Movie Schedule

It’s come up a few times on this list over the years, under varying degrees of specificity each time: For all manner of reasons, in Australia we still have to wait weeks to months for many movies to hit cinemas. This still happens even though such a problem has been long-gone in gaming and music circles for ages, and the increasing presence of streaming-exclusive films hitting on the same day worldwide makes the disparity feel even worse.

Two things brought the issue back into discussion this year: 1) There was a whole lot more to talk about on the blockbuster front; and 2) usually the bigger the movie, the less likely there will be a big delay, but even before the big lockdown extensions we were looking at extra waits of a month or more for the likes of No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Dune. The sheer familiarity of this whole situation leaves it low on this list, but in the age of widespread and early reaction content the phenomenon looks increasingly baffling each year.

9. Couches Passing in the Night

Of course the late movie situation was also exacerbated by the timing of lockdowns on the Australian east coast – and a couple of supremely unlucky videogames also felt the pinch. It wasn’t long into the year before fans of local multiplayer shenanigans had June circled as a month worth celebrating: We were set to see the long-awaited HD debut of the Mario Golf series with Super Rush alongside the impossibly good-looking Guilty Gear Strive, which stood out as easily the historic fighting game series’ best-ever chance to attract newcomers.

I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I was hyped. I had plans for these games; plans that kinda required people to be around. But the rest is history and long-story-short, neither of them held much appeal for me without local multiplayer. They were merely victims of bad timing and nothing more, but as a huge fan of the underappreciated Mario Tennis Aces and a regular dabbler in Arc System Works fighting games, I can’t help wondering what could have been.

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The Year(+) of Halo – Part 5: To Infinite and Beyond

At last, we’re on the doorstep.

Surely now – a year on from its original planned release date – we are nearly in the presence of Halo Infinite‘s story campaign. The wheels are set in motion for a committed launch, and though the game’s release will be aping all manner of giant hulking spacecraft in Halo lore by crash-landing without some of its parts, at least it won’t be on fire. You know, metaphorically speaking. We can hope. I’ve been playing a lot of the game’s multiplayer “beta” that’s basically just final release code, and it’s fantastic, so that’s promising at least.

As you may recall if you perused any of this site’s 2020 output, I spent a decent chunk of free time last year playing through and writing about the PC ports of the Halo campaigns – most of them in co-op while weaving through connection errors, bugs and other technical hurdles – in an effort to get ready for an otherwise-intimidating leap of faith into a dense, lore-soaked story spanning (officially as of last month) decades – plural. As you may realise if you perused any of this site’s 2021 output thus far, I haven’t been spending a whole lot of free time this year doing any of those things.

On one hand, a break from the series was just what the doctor ordered; on the other, it kinda seems like the whole ordeal (and make no mistake, it did feel like an ordeal at points) isn’t really worth much if it isn’t finished. But at the time of writing, there isn’t much time left in the year; there has been a pretty constant stream of new things to play and watch throughout 2021 and almost nothing about Halo Infinite‘s launch has seemed set in stone until quite recently. So to finish this lengthy project, I’ve taken inspiration form – stay with me – the Kingdom Hearts series.

Yep, for all intents and purposes I’m packaging the three remaining Halo campaigns as if they were a twisted sci-fi gun-spraying version of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX or Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX, and the mental gymnastics required to get us to that comparison are surprisingly light. Both collections repackage three older games using the same formula: one headlining main-series title, one title with “spin-off” vibes (though this is no indication of lesser polish or quality) and one lesser-regarded title presented only as a collection of cutscenes. Spot the incredibly neat coincidence yet?

Basically, I set out to play the Halo 4 campaign to completion on my own time by myself, allowing the “spin-off” Halo 3: ODST to be a co-op side project as time and schedules permitted – with no pressure to finish the game because that’s the only Halo campaign I’d already seen through entirely long before this project began. That leaves Halo 5 as the stubborn outsider that I decided was best left experienced via cutscenes and/or story summaries on YouTube, for reasons including but not limited to:

  • It’s the only Halo game that still hasn’t come to the PC, and there’s still no sign of it doing so;
  • Though I loved Halo 5‘s multiplayer enough to lift it firmly into my top five games the year it came out (and that was a very competitive year), the campaign is almost universally panned as being short, repetitive and unsatisfying;
  • Perhaps more than any other Halo campaign, Halo 5‘s is designed around four player co-op, and there’s no way I can be bothered going through the hassle to get a fully-stacked willing team together given the above factors.

So that’s the setup. Got it memorised?

Halo 3: ODST

What a game! No sooner had I booted up the opening mission with my long-suffering Halo co-op mate Toby than I was hit with a wave of 2009 nostalgia I hadn’t yet experienced on this long PC campaign journey. This was one of my very first tastes of dark, moody Triple-A HD gaming back in the day, and the polished visual contrast between shadowy night-time city streets and funky alien weaponry is preserved superbly in ultrawide aspect ratio today. But the game’s art is certainly not the main reason why this campaign such a stellar reputation within the series.

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