What We Gamed - 2020

FBT and TheMorty reminisce about spending the year indoors. What lockdown?

TheMorty - What a year! Suddenly everyone has all the time in the world to game. Sadly, not for me… Being stuck at home 24/7 meant battling my toddler for the console, and he has backup – his Mam. It meant I had to reconsider what gaming means; I developed a new outlook, how a game’s purpose is the same no matter what world, characters or events occur. It’s about the experience, the connection, the sense of achievement that matters.

FBT – You buying that? TheMorty has not played anything this year that doesn’t have ‘Nickelodeon presents’ above the title has he. During Lockdown I discovered how much I like doing nothing – in the real and digital world. The original Walking Sim Gone Home came close to being my GitS (Game in the Sales), Previous Weapon’s version of GOTY. It’s a thing of beauty and revealed how nosy I am; rifling through people’s stuff was amazing. As was the nothing-really-happens Firewatch. It’s Hipster mumblecore for gamers but it’s so good.

TM - So FBT sat watching someone else do all the walking? Makes a change from him sat watching someone else do all the work. At least he’s gaming. For me, locked down with a toddler is a fresh kind of hell. Goddamn Paw Patrol. A household meeting was held, negotiations took place, and a trade-treaty was signed to avoid the disasters of a no deal XboXit. The compromise was downloading 3+ games “we can all play”. GTAV is technically 3+, right? GTV Online is full of people acting like three-year olds anyway.

FBT – Sometimes I didn’t even walk. Her Story should have been boring-as, a game where we sit at a Windows 95 PC and watch recordings of a woman being interviewed by police after her hubby turned up dead. But it was so compelling trying to figure out if she did it or not. Much like Stories Untold where I sit at my PC playing someone sitting at their PC playing a game of someone sitting at their PC. So confusingly good. I did leave the house though, virtually, in Cloudpunk, which lets me be a futuristic Amazon Delivery Driver. Like we won’t all be working for Amazon in the future. There was just something so calming about being an NPC, flying about the neon city with my AI-mutt, messing up parcel deliveries.

TM – I don’t feel so bad now if that’s how FBT spent his Lockdown. Kid’s gaming is essentially decaf gaming, but I see it as setting my son on the right path, the start of a life-long addiction. But as much as I try to introduce him to Sonic and Mario, my gateway drugs, his is … Paw Patrol: On a Roll. At least I’m gaming. There’s something refreshing about not dealing with a million key-combos, moral choices, action-scenes and, whatever.

FBT – Hey, I’m not one to judge. If the TheMorty wants to play puppy, good for him. I went for a different kind of animal. A replay of Jaws Unleashed confirmed it’s the most insane game of all time, and unplayable, but it’s impossible to dislike. As was Maneater. Blasting around eating everything in sight with a Discovery Channel Shark Week-style commentary was the most fun I had this year. Just the right side of nuts. Play/Swim it.

TM – Well, maybe Paw Patrol will have a Shark DLC at some-point. When I was kid, my dad distracted me with wooden train tracks, and I wanted to continue the tradition. Not real ones of course; I introduced my lad to Tracks: The Train Set Game. You can design the most fantastical and unrealistic tracks you can think of – while adding a nice authentic touch of having a bedroom floor as background. It’s like you’re really there. Yes, I'm doing onscreen what the kid has in his real toybox upstairs but whatever, it was fun. Even when the gosh darn ding-dong-diddily (there’s children present) controls erase the wrong pieces or join two random bends together by accident, triggering frustration and tears (from me not the child). It should be a Rage Quit review but not in front of the kids.

FBT – as Lockdown becomes the new normal, I needed to recall happier times, and PW.com is supposed to be about the replays, so I revisited Trespasser. And spent most of the time looking at my own boobs. I have been in Lockdown too long. No wonder my wrist doesn’t work. I finally caught up with Doom 64 which I’d avoided thinking it was just an N64 reskin. It was like rediscovering Doom. Talking of which, during lockdown I didn’t murder anyone; my 3-part article on Murder Simulators was a fun replay of all the games that ‘responsible parents’ think will lead you to kill, and I didn’t, not once.

TM – while FBT tries to convince us he’s not a ticking timebomb, I went way back in time to 1997’s Total Annihilation. Build, destroy, defend, conquer - a format that’s been over-complicated in every strategy game since but here, against an AI so poor it made the game infinitely more exciting, you could play 1,000 different games and have an entirely different experience each time. A game could end in 10 minutes or 10 hours. Incredible.

FBT – I too went back to 1997 and visited a LucasArts game I missed first time around – Outlaws. It’s not up there with Blood or Heretic, but it had some lovely artwork, clever levels, and a solid story – all the stuff I didn’t care about back in 1997. This time around though, I appreciated what it was trying to achieve. And Red Dead Redemption II isn’t in the sales yet, so this is the best western I’ll get for a while.

TM – the Boris U-turns caused me to devolve back to the glory days of basic gaming, all the way back to The SEGA Mega Drive. The Mini is amazing, pre-loaded with 40 throwbacks to my wasted childhood. I started with the original Golden Axe, as it was the first console game I ever owned and nothing typifies 1989 quite like a medieval, sword-slinging He-Man. Playing entirely without saving, it took me an entire day to complete eight, three-minute levels. It was controller-smashingly frustrating. Reaching the end boss with one bar of health and my last Continue only to be brutally slain (again) and having to restart from scratch was something I’d rage quit in modern games, but here I hunkered down and restarted, and the satisfaction when I saved both the King and his Princess was immense.

FBT – Lockdown is getting to me. Time to get out of here. To the Moon. Deliver Us The Moon was a real surprise. A tiny Indie game with big ambition, it almost pulls it off. Basically a Walking/Floating Sim where our character takes a one-way, last-ditch trip to the Moon to restart its production lines and save the Earth, by the time you reach the end you’re so invested in what happened, what sacrifices need to be made, its powerful stuff. Not so powerful that I felt compelled to do something with my life, but that’s what games are for.

TM – Okay, while FBT makes like Bruce Willis, I’m facing the Armageddon that is bedtime. After I get the tyke to bed, I loaded up … Paw Patrol: On A Roll. If my profile’s going to show Paw Patrol’s got more hours than Red Dead II it had better be at 100%. After “we’d” saved some ducks, bunnies, fixed an eagle’s broken wing and saved that eternally irritating chicken, the tyke had aced it. The replay value of this brand for a toddler is infinite, so I can’t say it wasn’t value for money. Okay I enjoyed it, shut up FBT, least I’m not the one who actually liked Mafia III.

FBT - Mafia III is a good game in the wrong franchise, TheMorty – try finishing it to find out. But Mafia Remastered is now one of my all-time fave games. Focused story, great gunplay, solid characters – it’s closer to the Sopranos than The Godfather in how the Mafia are just a bunch of self-serving crooks who’ll cross each other in a second and use words like Loyalty and Family to justify it. It’s the first time I’d recommend a remaster.

TM - While FBT was reviewing games I’d already reviewed, the nurseries re-opened and I could play adult games; the mistake I made was reading FBT’s reviews this year. I’d be halfway through one of his signature rants and think – that sounds bloody awesome! - pick the game up, but by then he’d be raving about some other game so I’d go get that, but then he’d tear up another which caught my attention and… For instance, FBT’s trip to the Halcyon system got me hooked on Outer Worlds. It was just so engaging, a bitesize New Vegas – perfect. But by then he was gassing on about Maneater and got me thinking - Echo the Dolphin meets Carmageddon with a Goat Simulator garnish?? What’s not to love! I also got into AC: Origins but then I read his review and realised, yeah, it is bland. Eventually I had to stop being a sheep and play a game of my own.

TM – Having been unshackled from my family responsibilities, I started with The Sims 4… I’m amazed FBT’s not a Sims fan – the chance to play God? But life’s stressful enough without having to play it though a depressing simulator as well. Constantly being broke, hating work, crying all the time, the wife banging on that I haven’t done the dishes, trying to get up that career ladder, not showering – wait, I am talking about my Sim there, aren’t I?

FBT – Like TheMorty, Lockdown has allowed me to let some social expectations slide. Only dressing from the waist up, showering only when I realise that smell isn’t coming from the litter tray, standing in rooms blankly staring at walls – wait, am I TheMorty’s Sim? Closest I got to the Sims was The Stanley Parable, which was incredible and reminded me how much I don’t miss the office. It’s ruined gaming for me, but it was worth it.

TM – even in Lockdown FBT and I found a way to argue, this time over the best RPG games for a Why We Game special. While it was great going back and having a blast on some of my favourites, I discovered a real hidden gem in X-Com: Enemy Unknown which is hands down the best strategy RPG I’ve ever played. It is truly magnificent; straight to the point and minimalistic, it dedicates time to focusing on in-game battle strategy and building a militaristic force to battle the never-ending horde of shapeshifting Aliens. It’s my GitS for 2020. The first game I’m playing in 2021 is its sequel.

TM - Not being able to meet FBT for a beer n’ bicker this year was hard, but we had a couple of virtual pints and experimented with some temperamental cross-platforming. We raised some cartoon hell in Crackdown 3; but since FBT had already done a playthrough because, teacher’s pet, he had a peak Terry Crews that could bound buildings, heft cars and punch an enemy over a mile away. Whereas I had a punch-drunk Audley Harrison who needed multiple level-ups to unlock cars and weapons – the stuff we’re here for.

TM - But what it really highlighted was the lack of cross-platform titles and the work that needs to be done on that untapped potential. Gears of War 4 co-op was briefly fun, but its dial-up level of connective unreliability killed it. “Why aren’t you moving….” became the catchphrase as we got booted out 2 minutes into each level. It left us with only the death match option, which ended 10-2 to me. And Microsoft, figure out the xbox-PC audio issues will yer? I can’t hear FBT blaming internet lag for another loss.

FBT – one of my biggest issues this year has been with BT Broadband. But sometimes downloading games wasn’t worth the hassle. I raged through Crackdown 3, Duke Nukem’s Bulletstorm Tour, Crysis 2, and the interminable frustration that is Beyond: Two Souls. Why do Quantic Dream refuse to let gamers play their games? I still have Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human to play; but only because Steam won’t let me refund them.

TM – what is it with FBT and subtlety. Hating Quantic Dream’s offerings is like dismissing art because you don’t understand it. He’s the same with Remedy’s work too – when it’s Max Payne he’s all ‘yeah, bullet time!’ and missing the subtext, give him Alan Wake and he’s all “it’s not Doom is it”. Wait for our Agree to Disagree review of Control early next year. How he can love rifling through a teenager’s bedroom but not cope with complex characters and motivations is Beyond me. I meant the teenagers’ bedroom in Gone Home, just to be clear…

TM – ... he even found teenager’s underwear in Firewatch’s wilderness? It’s a talent I suppose.

FBT – from one Teenager to another, 2020’s GitS for me is A Plague Tale. Young Amicia guiding little bro Hugo through the Plague, the Inquisition and hordes of crazed rats is amazing and awful; it’s a truly disturbing, compelling, sad game and even the magical rat-controlling final third can’t dissuade me; GitS of the year. Plus, it pretty much sums up 2020.

So that was the year that was. 2020. It wasn’t so bad, when reality wasn’t a factor. TheMorty’s GitS choice was a eight old game while FBT went for an Indie title – that what PW.com is all about, but it’s easy to see why they picked those; the Triple A’s haven’t brought their A-Game in years. Name one in 2020 that wasn’t marred by bad reviews or worse bugs.

2021 promises mega releases like Far Cry 6, Hitman 3 and Halo Infinite - aka Sequels, not originality; PW.com will keep looking back and to the Indies for an escape. Up-and-coming reviews include TheMorty’s Jurassic World vs FBT’s Jurassic Park Genesis, FBT’s Lucius trilogy and TheMorty’s Paw Patrol: On a Roll... Or maybe that’ll be reviewed by TheMorty Jnr.