Game of the year is the hardest category to choose and I often think about this throughout the entire year. While there were so many great runner-ups, like there is every year, the one that makes it to the top for me is the most memorable. It’s not a mathematical score of what game received the most awards or had the highest score, but what was the most fun and memorable. A game has to leave something with me and resonate. A game that needs to be discussed and admired and something even revolutionary or groundbreaking.
This is going to seem really strange. Despite Cyberpunk being strong in many areas its far from game of the year, which is a huge disappointment to me. After 60+ hours in I have to say the game falls short in many areas that keep it from being game of the year. The numerous bugs, cut content, poor balancing, terrible driving mechanics, etc. Sure, it gives us a rich story, great characters, and a fun city to play in, but Ghost of Tsushima was all this without the issues. Tsushima had a fantastic balance in its gameplay loop, the open world was a blast to explore, and I couldn’t put the game down.
Well here we are, and it’s been one hell of a year. Between COVID-19 lockdowns, electronic shortages, panic shopping, and many other things that happened this will be a year for the history books. It doesn’t surprise me that even my own game awards have changed drastically due to the video game landscape shifting. I’ll explain what categories have been excluded and why, what has been added, and the overall view of video games this year.
Let’s start with what’s been removed. The biggest change we saw this year was the lack of console exclusives. These are what usually drive sales of systems, especially with a new generation of hardware launching, and there was a serious lack of them. For another year Xbox One has been excluded and it will remain that way since this is the year Microsoft announced all exclusives will be on the Xbox Series X. With a lack of handhelds this year that entire category is gone most likely forever. We have seen the dawn and dusking of dedicated handhelds, but I am also excluding mobile awards this year. Over the years mobile games’ quality has declined and there are maybe only a couple a year. The microtransaction heavy shovelware is in full force this year. Even the iOS and Android reddit pages have almost jumped ship due to this. The mobile landscape is a hot mess indeed.
With all that said, that leaves the PS4, Switch, and PC and this wasn’t the best year for exclusives for any system. Not to mention PS5 and XSX launch games were mostly ports and upgrades. This is a strange year for exclusives as we are in an in between where only a few big budget ones released and then mostly smaller ones. I am also excluding a few achievement categories such as music as there weren’t enough games whose music blew me away like previous years. Fighting games are also excluded as there just wasn’t much. It was a sad year for fighting games and every single heavy hitter was also absent outside of continued DLC. Puzzle games are also out as it was a lackluster year. Mostly just small tiny budget games that didn’t make much off an impact.
The only category I added was Best Single Player game. Single player games are making a huge comeback as gamers are getting tired of online multiplayer features never evolving. I’m actually really happy about this as we saw a ton of great single player only games this year. This year was also a heavy year of botched releases. Cyberpunk 2077, Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Fallout 76 Wastelanders, Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition, Crysis Remastered, the list goes on! This is one of the worst years for buggy releases I have ever seen and it doesn’t seem to be trending downward.
With that said this was still a great year for gaming, and hopefully after the lockdowns lift more games can be released on a timely manner. It’s been an odd year for software and hardware developers around the world.
Atmosphere in a game is very finicky and hard to get right. The game can look and sound good and feel amazing to play, but pulling you into its world and immersing you is another thing. Very few games can do this well even the best of them out there. A game’s setting needs to fully pull in the player in every way it can and that’s visuals, storytelling, characters, art, and design.
Something about a dystopian cyberpunk universe that feels like Blade Runner just sits so well with me. This could have easily been screwed up and felt like a cybernetic GTA clone, but I felt like I was in the game and story thanks to the towering buildings, immersive characters and storytelling, and there’s a ton of detail in every corner. Lots of clutter objects, tons of messages to read throughout the game, advertisements, posters, and the vehicles. The game oozes with atmosphere more than any game this year.
One of the most important parts of a game is the story. Sometimes this is the only important part of a game. It helps makes a game worth playing. Gameplay can only get you so far. This year saw some of the best told stories in years and it was hard to choose what to put here. A great story doesn’t just mean a twist ending, but it has to be interesting and well-told all the way through to the end.
Cyberpunk’s story is amazing in a sense that it’s characters, lore, and setting bring the main story together in a very beautiful way. There are multiple stories to tell here and they are quite memorable. It’s one thing to craft a single long story with key points, but to create stories for numerous characters and make us care about them? That is a serious achievement. Cyberpunk does this through its entire game. It’s not just one amazing thing but a multitude of factors that come together to make an amazing thing happen in this game. It’s very unique and no other game has done this in such a long time.
Soundscapes are something that is heavily underlooked in games. Most concentrate on soundtracks and voice acting, but sound design can also make or break a game. You need to feel immersed and part of the experience and the right sounds matter. A game with great sound design with bringing you into its universe without you even knowing. Think of a game that feels alive or bustling? A major part of that is sound design.
It’s hard with open world games to make you feel like you are part of it. There is so much sound involved in making you feel like you’re in a large city compared to a hallway in a ship. The sounds of the city are incredibly important in open-world games. You need a lot of ambience and many games don’t get it right. Cyberpunk sounds like a living breathing world and more so than most others have accomplished. More than just honking cars, people chattering, and footsteps. Cyberpunk 2077 feels alive and sounds like it too.
Indie games are no longer the underdogs of the industry. They proudly push the boundaries of genres, gameplay, storytelling, and controversy. They lead while larger studios tend to follow suit and copy using them as guinea pigs. Indie games now give us gameplay experiences larger budget games can’t provide and blow-up financially and critically. This was an amazing year for indie games with so many I hard such a hard time deciding which go here.
Hades is the new love child of Super Giant Games whose claim to faim was Bastion and Transistor. With a similar art and combat style, Hades is oozing with Greek mythology culture and art. The game has procedurally generated dungeons, but the RPG elements are addictive and you can’t stop coming back for more. The animations are beautiful, the voice acting is great, and it just feels so polished and fun.
Diversity is the key to the voice acting game. It’s not just about delivering good lines. Usually, unique voice actors such as celebrities can really drive a game home as it doesn’t happen very often. Just because you have a lot of dialog or lines doesn’t make the voice acting good either. Look at The Elder Scrolls or Fallout. Tons of dialog, but all the lines are mediocre at best and sound cookie cutter.
Cyberpunk had some of the most diverse voice acting this year. Each actor really delivered the character home and the addition of Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand was a pleasure to listen to. Each character felt unique and individualized and what won me over was the sheer amount of them. That’s something that’s incredibly hard to pull off with this many characters and so many lines of dialog. CDPR could have just taken a shortcut like Bethesda and gotten a few actors to voice multiple characters, but they didn’t, and it paid off.
A game that looks good usually has state of the art technology driving its engine and pushes systems to their limits. The visuals should be consistent, beautiful, and groundbreaking in some way. With the launch of next-generation consoles and new graphics cards we are on the cusp of what the next set of games can look like, but we did get a glimpse this year.
The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog knows how to push PlayStation hardware in ways no one dares or dreamed could be possible. The Last of Us II looks amazing on the PS4 Pro with highly detailed textures, amazing lighting, fantastic animations and motion capture, and it just overall looks impressive, almost next-gen. While there were a lot of other amazing games released this year with ray-tracing and other technology they weren’t as consistent with their impressive visuals as The Last of Us II was.
There are great graphics and then there’s great art. These are two completely separate things. A game can look good technically (Serious Sam 4) but be sterile and uninteresting to look at. Then there are games that are both. There weren’t a lot of really artful games this year, but what we did get was incredibly impressive. What makes a game uniquely artistic would be in the eye of the beholder, but generally it is a unique art style in and of itself that no other game can produce.
A cyberpunk setting has been done numerous times, but never in as much as detail as Cyberpunk 2077. From the amazingly detailed cybernetic enhancements on every character to the striking vehicles, advertisements, propaganda, and object clutter, there is so much beauty to look at here. Some may say it looks too realistic, but that’s the game’s thing. A fantasy future set in a realistic tone.