What We Gamed - 2021

PW scribes TheMorty and FBT look back on another year gaming the sales.

Previous Weapon is all about games in the sales and digging up forgotten classics, yet this year FBT pre-ordered Cyberpunk, Black Ops Cold War, Deathloop and Far Cry 6 - and hated them all. He should just stick to the rules. Meanwhile, TheMorty played all the games that FBT loved last year, in a futile attempt to pick holes in his arguments - and then rolled back all of the years and blazed the entire Super Mario back catalogue. At least he didn’t sleep outside HMV in his tent all night to be first in line to buy Cyberpunk on release day …

FBT – Yes I did play Cyberpunk on day one, and yeah it was a mess. But once it gets going, it really goes. It just shouldn’t have been freeroam. If it’d stuck to a linear story it would have rocked. And Far Cry 6 was not the bitter disappointment of AC Valhalla, but just so… Far Cry. Ubisoft, go home you’re drunk – and creatively dead.

TM – Technically I did keep to PW.com’s remit – all my gaming was in the past. AC past. Don’t get me started on Origins. I wasted 20+hrs before realising it wasn’t getting any better, or any less sandy. Bayek is so lame. Okay, he’s a revenge story that overcomes personal tragedy which is great for AC but he’s no Alexios or Ezio. That game sucked.

FBT – Wow, that kind of directionless raving is usually my bag. I liked Bayek, but I begrudgingly agree that Origins is a terrible game which doesn’t even describe the assassins’ ‘Origins’. Triple-A games just suck those days. Deathloop was all bark and no bite and the timeloop concept is a total cheat. Black Ops 5 was great looking but contributed nothing and its connection to the original was laughably bad. But my Triple-A hate was tempered by Horizon Zero Dawn, the game Cyberpunk, BO5, Far Cry 6 and Deathloop thought they were. A young woman cast out into an apocalyptic wilderness filled with robotic nasties should have come off as a bad Fallout but it was the best game I played this year. It even pauses to take the piss out of flat earthers. Robots rule. Even the robo crocs.

TM – Bethesda’s Deathloop sounds like a dream compared to the actual loop of death I battled through when playing Twelve Minutes I’ll never get back. Aside from how annoying it is hearing James McAvoy do his best Captain Kirk impression, screaming up into the heavens every… well, 12 minutes… you relive your wife being murdered in a top-down Groundhog Day for masochists. There was a brief moment when the plot looked like it was taking a really interesting turn but, instead it just got a bit incest-y.

FBT – Wow, you should try Minit, a pixel RPG where the gameplay lasts… a Minute. It still has more pathos than Skyrim. The Indie pool is usually my go-to after a crappy AAA but most I found beautiful/boring. What Remains of Edith Finch had startling moments but it was a hipster Tales from the Crypt. Lost Ember was all concept and no content, and the ultimate walking sim Dear Esther proved you can make the most boring genre even more boring.

TM – Minit, a minute-long RPG? Is FBT making those games up? There weren’t many indie games that I’d class as review worthy this year, but the latest in the Dark Pictures series, Man of Medan, was an interactive story in the vein of Heavy Rain set in an early 2000s paranormal horror movie. It’s scripted but plenty of times I had to restart after checking my phone and ending up dead. At least the silver lining to that was it was the insufferable Shawn Ashmore I kept killing. Good to see after Quantum Break his career has taken off...

FBT – Unlike Ashmore, good old adventure games made a solid comeback too. Oxenfree was amazing, while Tumbleweed Park wasn’t. And in the middle was Truberbrook, a hand-crafted art project that looked as extraordinary as it was ordinary to play. Buddy Simulator 1984 is brilliantly unnerving and Darkside Detective was what Tumbleweed shoulda been.

TM – As you might have guessed, my biggest disappointment was AC Origins but running it pretty close was Phantom Doctrine - a turn based strategy game that billed itself as XCOM meets Risk. The warning signs were there - a game I didn’t know existed from a developer I’ve never heard of comparing itself to two GOATs of the genre. It’s the gaming equivalent of Gangster Squad billing itself as “the best movie since the Godfather”. Another rage quit that makes it into my Borderlands bin.

FBT – Oh you had to mention Borderlands. My BL love was sorely tested by BL3’s True Vault Hunter mode and the Season Pass, but the love was rekindled by the re-release of Tales from the Borderlands – Gearbox, when a 5 yr old adventure game trounces your major release, you’ve got problems. Can’t make up my mind if I’m excited or apprehensive for the Wonderlands spin-off. Of course, I’m going to pre-order it.

TM – 2K shut up and take FBTs money! Of course, he’s going to pre-order it as he’ll be desperate for that limited edition poster of Claptrap to put on his bedroom wall. Still, as FBT gleefully points out, I can’t comment when I still haven’t finished it... PW.com is about old games and it’s only 11 years old, there’s time. I also played Tales this year and I have to agree it was the only game in the series that I actually found enjoyable - but I didn’t finish that either! Speaking of spin-offs and sequels, the new Mass Effect trailer that dropped on N7 day got me all nostalgic for a replay but not even I am stupid enough to fall for the £60 con of a so-called “Remastered” version.

FBT – Yeah, I did fall for that… ME Legendary is a rip-off of Ubisoft proportions. More on that later in the year once I’ve gotten over 2021’s sales disappointments; Terminator Resistance missed every opportunity and Jedi Knight Fallen Order was a SNES platformer when I expected a ‘spiritual sequel’ to the Kyle Katan era. Still, while a bad game can’t be saved, a so-bad-its-good has to be lauded. My Guilty Pleasure of the year has to be 2001’s Rogue Warrior. Based on a real-life marine, voiced by Mickey Rourke? Terrible, but your life is missing something if you’ve never heard Mickey Rourke demanding you suck his hairy balls.

TM – Where does he find those games? I went 8-bit with a Nintendo Switch and the entire Mario catalogue. Starting with the 85 original, through the badly aged Mario 64 and finally into Odyssey where Mario’s hat comes to life and can be thrown at Goombas. It was so refreshing playing through old platformers where the puzzles aren’t taxing and the narrative doesn’t have any M. Night Shyamalan homage-inducing twists.

TM – Sticking with Odyssey – Assassin's Creed that is, I spent around 90 hours just sailing the seas, exploring, and doing revenge missions for angry women at campsites without ever setting foot in the main story missions. What I adore about AC Odyssey is that it is the True Assassin’s Creed game. Minimal time wasting with Layla / Animus / Desmond / [Insert boring storyline] and instead just lets you get lost as a true Misthios in one of the most beautiful periods of history. More natural than Brotherhood and more expansive than Black Flag, with protagonists you actually cared for and accurate historical references (ignoring the Unicorn skin for Phobos), it’s probably the closest to a 10/10 I’ve ever played. I just can’t believe I wasted so much time in Origins when this was sat on the shelf gathering dust.

FBT – And leave AC Valhalla on the shelf too. Paying attention to PW’s remit for once, I finally caught up with LA Noire on its 10-yr anniversary, and it really is the most detailed dive into 40s Americana ever produced in any medium, and proof that gaming can be art. Shame I didn’t actually play it; LAN is bascially a walking sim, an interactive story and actually proof that some art should be left to the Cinema. And in space, I finally fell in love with Cortana. Playing Master Chief Collection was a slog and those early games do not deserve the praise, but the spin offs and H4 were pretty darn good. Shame Microsoft thought it was a good idea to not port Halo 5 to the PC but did release Halo Infinite (aka Far Cry in space).

FBT – A large part of PW is also TheMorty and I bickering. We argued about what defines an RPG and who has the best Dinosaur, and the relative merits of Remedy’s Control - I think I won all of those arguments, but it has to be said, TheMorty took me to school when Lockdown 3 forced us into MMO experiences. I’ll let him brag for a bit.

TM – We started off the lockdown with some co-op zombie killing in World War Z and some horde-slaying in Gears 5. Even though we were on the same side, it got competitive … that is until the awful Microsoft cross-platform experience gave FBT the perfect excuse for being a few dozen frags behind. To paraphrase the proverb - a bad marksman blames his lag.

FBT "Oh no, lag... you go get the zombies" / TheMorty "Sonofa..."

TM - We eventually decided to put down the guns and pick up the keys, piling around the UK countryside in Forza Horizon 4. Even though we weren’t competing, that didn’t stop FBT putting in endless prep hours to max out his garage ahead of me. And as soon as I joined his convoy, what did he do? Cloned my car. Typical. I’d learned my lesson by the time game pass launched Forza Horizon 5 and put in a few prep hours of my own… we lined up for a race, and he claimed the game was ‘forcing’ him to use my x-series Porsche as the best car in the Convoy. And I still won, proving it’s the driver not the car.

TM - Taking our caveman-like posturing to new lows, we next took on Ark Survival Evolved, which saw me make like Tom Hanks to FBT’s Wilson; biggest issue wasn’t the insane difficulty, the endless need to eat, random defecation or complete confusion, it was the bugs that saw us lose clothes, watch items yeet into the wilderness and in my case, sleepwalk. Yup, FBT was so useless at surviving I had to do the heavy lifting while sleeping.

FBT - Tom Hanks and Wilson? I was playing a female character, be thankful I didn’t turn it into The Blue Lagoon.

TM – Yeech. How does someone manage to ruin Brooke Shields? We also took a punt at Grounded, a Honey We Shrunk the Kids style game. In theory it’s the ultimate sandbox which, considering sandboxes tend to be in gardens, made the environment much more relatable. It was compelling…and deadly. I’d be running from a spider and pass FBT being chased by an army of ants he’d annoyed on a whim. Stumbling into a spider’s web was strangely terrifying but despite being killed by everything we encountered, it’s so much fun and I’ll never enter the back garden without a can of bug spray ever again.

FBT - MMO is the way to go. Whether we want to or not. Publishers are pushing toward a perpetual online environment, aka ‘Games as a Service’ – gaming is not Netflix. GTAV will be 9 years old next year, where’s GTA6? Fallout 5? Skyrim is 10 years old. AC Valhalla is unplayable now, every time you log on there’s a 20gb update and some crappy seasonal mission you have no interest in – it’s horrible. And it was horrible to begin with. It’s a tutorial for AC Infinite, and Far Cry 6 is much the same with rumours that Far Cry 7 will be MMO as well. It’s not what gamers want, even RPGs need to end. A perpetual world is easier and cheaper for the publishers, and filled with Microtransactions. And now NFTs – WTF?

TM – Even if MMO is the future, connectivity issues are stopping us getting there. They made Gears 4 unplayable, Gears 5 unwinnable and both Grounded and Forza received forced updates that blocked one or both of us from playing, and they’ve still not fixed the audio issues between Xbox and Windows even though they’re both MS products which still means FBT and I have to join a conference room or, even worse, call each other on the telephone while we play. What is this, 1997? As a platform, Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Social just aren’t stable and until they make cross-platform seamless, MMO will never become the gamers’ choice… and don’t even get me started on Cloud gaming!

FBT – Still, at least there’s a ton of old games I still need to finish. Top of the “won’t ever finish” list is Red Dead Revolver II. I waited years for that to hit the sales and now I want a refund. I just wanted to be a cowboy. It’s beautiful but fussy, tiresome and boring. I’d rather play Custer's Revenge. And at the bottom of the list is Death Stranding. Rain injures you and your breath attracts nasties, yet he walks about in a hoodie? Just get a Hazmat suit, we’ll have this done in an hour.

TM – RDR2… another one in the Borderlands Bin. It lost me at the tutorial level. I loved how in Fallout you could enable that hardcore/insanity mode that that allowed you to play it as an epic survival game but, that only works as a choice. Surely there should be a mode where you can just be a badass gunslinger with a slight hint of auto aim? I’ll just go back and do another 100 hours on Odyssey thanks… or Mario, either would be better than RDR2!

FBT – So my GOTY was Horizon Zero Dawn while TheMorty’s was AC Odyssey. Usually I’d take the piss out of his choice but I agree. It’s a draw. Two pure escapism free-roam fantasy games win our Games in the Sales recommendations and not an Online transaction in sight. Get ‘em if you haven’t already. And avoid ME Legendary. And RDR2. And Death Stranding. And I’m never pre-ordering again. I learnt my lesson. Except Wonderlands…

So that was TheMorty and FBT’s look back on a year of gaming in the sales. Neither of them mentioned the biggest game of the year for PW.com - our most read review was Euro Truck Simulator 2. And it’s easy to see why; for some reason, being a truck driver rocks. We don’t always have to save the universe or kill the big bad, sometimes just delivering radiators to Milton Keynes is more satisfying. It’s the one game that might actually rock as an MMO.