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Rankings and mini-reviews for the 15 2020 releases I played

Gamingtodaynews1f - Rankings and mini-reviews for the 15 2020 releases I played
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  1. Zombie Army 4: Dead War

I like the Sniper Elite series well enough so I was eager to play it with a zombie filter. The story is B-Movie goofy, the missions are all pretty much copy and pastes of each other for the entire game, the objectives are all identical, but overall it was a decent enough "plug and play" romp of a game. Hitting bullet cam head shots was a lot of fun, especially since you can actually destroy the head unlike in SE main games.

Picking up heavy weapons like mini guns or circular saws and mowing through the undead hordes was a spectacle and a lot of fun, and of course slaughtering an entire horde of zombie Hitlers was satisfying and hilarious.

Visually the game is okay, the atmosphere and music are cool, ultimately it did what it needed to do for a goofy, quick zombie killing game.

ZA4 also has one of the coolest controller speaker mechanics I've heard. If you leave the game on pause for a bit you controller will say "come back" and "play with me" in this hellish whisper. It's pretty awesome and freaked me the fuck out the first time I heard it.

  1. Marvel's Avengers

A potentially great game hiding in an exceedingly mediocre game. Visual presentation is great and the combat is a lot of fun, but the game is so insanely repetitive and doesn't really take advantage of the property. Instead of well known villains it is for the most part endless waves of identical soldiers and robot enemies, with most bosses simply being larger robots.

The story and characters are all fine though and at times it did feel like some great Avengers experiences, but samey missions and emphasis on loot and shit really detracted from the experience. I liked playing as each of the characters, but the missions weren't different enough to justify picking one over the other beyond just preference.

Each character should have had their own set of missions that emphasize their unique abilities. And on missions where you pick your team of fellow avengers, i think it would have been great to be able to switch between them in real time similar to Arkham.

Overall I'd say I enjoyed the experience as much as I could, but left extremely disappointed at what could have been. there were definitely some badass set pieces though. I liked Kamala Khan as the MC with her charming optimism and fangirlism, I liked Troy Baker as Banner, a good meek voice performance to contrast the Hulk, and I dug North as Stark although he seemed a little Deadpooly with the quips.

If a sequel focuses more on a campaign rather than using it merely as a vehicle for GaaS multiplayer I'll buy day one

  1. UFC 4

UFC 4 was more of the same as 3 really. They hyped up the campaign mode as being more story driven where you actually interact with your coach and everything so I was excited to actually see a story playout but after the first few fights your coach really only shows up here and there. And they bothered to give your character a voice but didn’t bother to write any lines besides “yeah” “okay” “heh”. Felt it was a missed opportunity to do something different and interesting.

The visuals and mechanics are pretty similar to 3, but with some new arenas and new online fight modes there was enough to justify a new game. The high impact replays are cool though you still can’t control any aspect of the replay and only ever see the last few seconds of the fight. The grappling system is still kind of janky and they removed elbows from the ground and pound, which i loved doing in 3. There also wasn’t much added to the create a fighter.

Joe Rogan isn’t featured as a commentator, but Cormier and Anik are perfectly fine, although they do make the wrong call occasionally just like in 3 where they attribute a knockout to something that never happened.

Generally fun games to plug and play during bouts of boredom or to fuck around online for a bit. Can’t complain too much since they simply are what they are and do it well enough.

  1. Call of Duty – Black Ops: Cold War

After MW2019 I was pretty pumped for this given how gritty the combat was in MW and knowing that Treyarch usually makes the goriest CODs. I also really dug the more CQC missions and the relative realism of MW so was hoping for more of the same but all of the above was a whole lot better in MW.

The story was cool and full of espionage and intrigue, which fit the setting, but there weren't any real standout missions other than some brief stints in Vietnam and a mission in a mock US city used by the Soviets for tactical drills.

Graphically the game looks decent at times but overall MW looked better. The gunplay is the same as always but I was disappointed to see no bullet damage at all, very inconsistent blood pooling under killed enemies (blood puddles even reabsorb into the bodies if you wait a minute) and zero dismemberment, which sucks because even WaW and Blops 1,2, and 3 had it. It just sanitized the violence way too much especially when we know how brutal Vietnam was. Grenades and explosives do zero damage. Just real disappointing after MW.

The only good addition to the combat were the absolutely brutal melee kills, but even those were made less effective by not having any body damage or blood splatter on the environment.

The campaign is very quick. Finished it all in what seemed like 5 hours or so. I did enjoy it somewhat and if some patches improve the gore and blood effects, which I'm not counting on, I'll have more fun replaying certain levels. The game also has branching dialogue (although your character doesn't speak during gameplay) and it has some cool mechanics like searching for clues, uncovering secrets, etc which I didnt really bother much with but completionist will dig the extra content and multiple endings.

It was good seeing Mason and Woods again even though they didnt have much to do. Your player character is a blank slate, which I guess is the point, but Adler really steals the show.

Certain scenes have weird visual anomalies. Toward the end when you're talking with your team the shadows and shading kept distorting and then there is the game breaking controller bug where in the first Vietnam mission the game freezes your controller if you're using bluetooth and the only way to fix it is restart your system. Trying to replay some missions a couple days after completing the campaign, and lo and behold the game doesn’t even get past the “Press X to Start” screen.

The game had a troubled development and it really shows. A little disappointed but will likely play through the campaign one more time now that I've adjusted my expectations.

  1. Ghostrunner

I’m only about halfway through this one as I’ve been playing in small chunks between playtime with other games, but I have enjoyed the fun (yet frustrating) experience so far. The cyberpunk style of the game creates a badass atmosphere amplified by the pounding synth music. The combat is fast and demands precision and mobility as every single enemy is a one-shot kill on you and you’ve got pretty much zero ranged attack options besides a force push (at least up to the point I’m at). The game is like a cyberpunk first person version of Hotline Miami in that it is perpetual trial and error that has seen me die upward of 150 times on a single level. But when you get into a rythym and clear areas with no deaths, no missed traversal attempts, etc it is extremely rewarding.

And slicing dudes with the katana or blinking past a gunshot in slowmo never gets old. There are a lot of deaths to be had due to missed parkour attempts, so those can get pretty frustrating, but once you figure out the angles, enemy positions, etc the game remains extremely challenging but fair.

Generally enjoying the game and look forward to continuing to chip away until I finish it.

  1. Star Wars: Squadrons

I played the shit out of the Rogue Squadron games for 64 and Gamecube and after the disappointment of Fallen Order, I was excited to get back into the skies of the Star Wars world. The game plays pretty different to the more arcadey style of the RS series, but there was a really good mix of arcade and simulator that i ended up really enjoying once I got the hang of it. Managing the various systems like weapons, shields, engines, balancing the shield distribution, etc all added a layer of immersion that made the combat much more engaging.

The missions are fun and intense with epic dogfights, bringing down capital ships, protecting and escorting allies (which i didn’t mind), and they all take place with pretty awesome celestial backdrops. Asteroid fields, cosmic sprawls of space dust, sun-lit planet surfaces, destroyed moons, etc which all added to the epic feeling of being a badass cosmic fighter pilot. I wish there had been some missions that take place over land like in the RS games instead of restricting the flight just to space, but the space settings still never got dull.

The story is decent but you play as a complete non-character which was unfortunate. Having a strong lead for both the Republic and the Empire would have added some depth to the campaign and having actual cutscenes rather than the “stand still and talk” approach would have been much better. But generally i enjoyed playing as both sides and experiencing the differences in their ships and approaches. It was also nice that playing as the Empire didn’t lead to the usual “player character defects to the rebels” narrative trope.

Overall really fun, intense, beautiful, and concise campaign that gets really engaging after a small learning curve. I can see myself replaying missions here and there just to jump back into the world with its rich sounds and iconography.

  1. Resident Evil 3 Remake

Downloaded this at 11pm CST on launch night and finished it by about 430am. Fucking LOVED this one. It was short, yes, but the pace was killer and it told the complete story. I liked the original RE2 more than the original RE3, but I gotta say I enjoyed 3's remake more than 2's, though I’d need to replay 2 to give it the fairest shake possible. 2 did gore better for sure and I would have appreciated Carlos having a "B" scenario for 3, but everything else I thought RE3 did very well. It looks amazing and is insanely detailed. The pace is exciting and tense throughout since it is a bit more action heavy. And it removes two of my least favorite things about RE (even though they are defining characteristics of the series): puzzles and a ton of backtracking.

I had to backtrack a bit in the city and quite a bit in the hospital, but they were interesting settings to do it in. And with puzzles, I understand they are a part of RE's charm but I've never really cared for them too much so RE3make was just right.

The voice acting and characters were also much better than pretty much any other RE. And having your character move like a person with the dodge mechanic was a great addition.

I also really loved the enemy redesigns. Both versions of the Hunters looked amazing and seeing the gammas slide out of the drain pipes and stomp toward you was intense every time.

And fucking Nemesis. Every encounter was intense as hell and I loved his ultimate defeat. I wish he had been a little less scripted though.

Overall very happy with this and don't regret paying full price even with it being relatively short. I don't replay a whole lot of games in full, but REs replay value is in speed runs, harder modes, and unlocking unlimited ammo, so those who are inclined to do all that will definitely get their money's worth. I'm not planning on doing any of that and am still satisfied with my purchase.

I've found myself loading up earlier saves just so I can walk through the city, and I would have really enjoyed opening up Raccoon City more, similar to Union in The Evil Within 2 where you can choose to do some creepy side missions and help civilians, all while being stalked by an unscripted Nemesis. Hopefully we get something like that in an RE game in the future.

  1. Visage

I remember seeing a teaser for this game way back and always thought it looked intriguing and terrifying. Well it finally released on PS4 and I couldn't resist.

Jesus fucking christ this game is scary as hell. By far the scariest game I've played. On display is such a mastery of tension, atmosphere, and pure horror. I would rank this higher considering it is the absolute best of the genre IMO, but the gameplay just isn't as involved as the other titles I played so it is hard to put it above the remaining titles.

The story opens in the darkest way imaginable and from there you awake into what seems like an ordinary home. This uncanny setting makes the scares insanely effective. We've all walked through our houses at night and thought we saw something move or some person-looking shadow. This game is full of that. While it does have some effective jump scares here and there, the game absolutely drips in atmosphere and creep factor and buries itself under your skin from the first minute. It relies heavily on instilling a perpetual sense of unease and dread and is more effective at that than any horror game I've played.

And as you experience more terror, your sanity decreases which leads to even more horrifying experiences. There were plenty of scares that seemed randomly generated, which kept me on my toes even when playing the same save file. A face staring back at me from a doorway, a figure standing outside the house and then inside, radios bursting on, a silhouette being slightly different than the last time you passed it…

While the house appears normal, it is anything but. Similar to Layers of Fear and P.T., it distorts reality and seemed impossibly huge and labyrinthine and had a surreal spooky vibe to it.

The ghosts that haunt it are scary AF as well. You may turn the corner and see a figure staring at you from the end of the hall or, when using one of the games best mechanics, you might use your camera flash to find your way up some stairs and in the brief burst of light catch a glimpse of something staring back at you. The game is end to end with experiences like that that often aren't even accompanied by the usual music cues so you could outright miss a lot of it. Fortunately I played with my VR headset on (not a VR game though) so every single scare made my hair stand on end.

Game isnt perfect as a game (wonky inventory, texture pop in, some bugs, really easy to entirely miss what you're supposed to be doing) but it IS perfect horror. You will spend a ton of time trying to figure out what to do but will end up covering every inch of the game because of that. It is worth it. The third chapter also isnt as strong as the first two although it had great music and felt more like Outlast, which I didnt mind as there were some insanely creepy moments. The final chapter was a bit of a departure that saw you tracking down items in the house to get the credits. This is the least scary chapter but still really enjoyed it.

The story also deals with some heavy themes that hit hard throughout. It is kept pretty ambiguous but there is enough there for you to piece it together.

Months ago when playing games like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home I had the persistent thought of how effective an "ordinary-ish house" exploration would be if it dived into horror. Well this is that game.

There were countless times I got goosebumps and chills all over my body, times I emoted out loud, times I stared at a door or corner for several seconds before finally proceeding, holding my breath for fear of what I might see. Or what might see me.

  1. Mafia: Definitive Edition

I never played the 2002 Mafia but played and loved Mafia 2 and also really enjoyed Mafia 3 despite the sloggy repetition of it. So I was eager to dive into a remake of the first game and get more into the world and this game did not disappoint. It looks great, drips with a badass 1930s style from the fashion, the radio/music, the vibe of the city, the cars, the weapons.

The gameplay is very Mafia 3 esque and adds a good layer of brutality to the action that Mafia 2 lacks. The gunplay feels good, the car chases are intense and fun, and the stealth is rudimentary but gets the job done. From a combat perspective, i wish they included the weapon executions from Mafia 3 (gun shot in the mouth, standing on the enemy and shooting them point blank, etc) but overall I enjoyed mowing down enemies. The blood spilling was good, body damage was simple blood decals and left a lot to be desired, and blood pools formed even under enemies you punch to death which is a bit silly. Coming off of TLOU2, all combat seems a little sanitized, but I did enjoy the combat here and it gets the job done.

The city and world generally are beautiful. Seeing the sign lights reflect off the falling rain added a lot to the atmosphere.

Some standout set pieces were the trip to the farm which had an incredible atmosphere, badass weather effects, a thrilling gunfight and a fun car getaway. The final showdown in the art gallery was also a lot of fun and felt like John Wick mowing through guys with all the art and statues.

The story and characters were great as well as the voice acting. The dialogue was fun and authentic, I liked the chemistry between Tommy, Sam, and Paulie, and I enjoyed fighting alongside them.

I knew the ending already since it is shown in Mafia 2, but it was put together really well with the voice over and scenes from Tommy's later life. Good emotional ending to cap a great story.

The game is an open world that isnt really open world. You can explore, but there is little to nothing in the way of side content/missions. The open world essentially just gives you a city to drive through to get to linear missions. It is successful at making you feel like you're existing in a living world, and I definitely cant fault a game for not having endless quests of POI markers.

Overall really enjoyed the game and will likely be replaying missions here and there over the next few weeks then once my backlog and upcoming releases are done, would like to play 1,2, and 3 back to back to back.

  1. Assassin's Creed: Valhalla

Though it is by no means a perfect game, I thoroughly enjoyed all 90 hours of ACV and was happy for it to be my first AC game. The Viking setting and inclusion of dismemberment were what made me finally jump into the series, and those two aspects delivered in spades.

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First off, the game looks amazing. The art style isn’t as beautiful or striking as say, Ghost of Tsushima, but the environments, the lighting, the water, etc all looked pretty damn good. Particularly the diffuse lighting in fog/haze or through the smoking ruins of a settlement or simply the way the light hit leaves. The shadows of the landscape also created an epic scale that had you riding through shadows of immense rocks and seeing the sunlight shift over the landscape was a sight to behold. The water and environmental reflections also look amazing. Pretty much every time you’re on the water it looks like a vast drowned facsimile of the world above. The draw distances spanning valleys, rolling hills, mountainscapes, stretched out to the very edges of the game world with amazing clarity.

The combat, though it took some getting used to after Ghost of Tsushima, was brutal and satisfying and made you feel like an absolute badass tearing though legions of enemies, taking fortresses, battling bosses and mini-bosses, etc. With 400 skill points, there were also a lot of badass upgrades to strive for. The combat isn't quite as crisp or responsive as GoT, but I feel like it gave the gameplay a sort of unrefined barbaric feel that fit the setting.

The game is absolutely massive, and while I enjoyed the story an the characters, I think the sheer length of the game did the narrative a disservice. There is never really much urgency nor is there really an actual ending. There is never a clearly defined, singular goal that drives the narrative beyond just expanding your settlement which left me feeling not as invested in the story as I could have been. While I did enjoy the journey, that extra urgency would have put it over the top for me.

Also, this being my first AC, I couldn't care less about the present day Animus story and could have completely done without it. It added nothing to my experience, and having one of the main narrative climaxes dealing exclusively with that aspect deflated the late game experience for me.

The world events were fun even if they were nowhere near as involved as something like Witcher 3, and tracking down special enemies and legendary animals was a lot of fun and added to the thrill of the combat. Zealots in particular provided a ton of cool combat encounters.

Two of my biggest issues were the frequent crashes and the horse mechanics. There is no reason for the horse not to have unlimited stamina outside of specific situations. Traveling the massive map became a huge chore when the horse would slow down every few seconds and slow to a slower-than-on-foot crawl when going up hills. The stamina meter kills all momentum.

Also I think they should have just stuck with female Eivor. Even playing as a male, NPCs referred to me as "she" several times and one late game cutscene even outright replaced my Eivor with the female version.

Overall though I loved the game and the huge amount of time I spent with it but a few things held it back from being truly amazing.

  1. Spider-Man: Miles Morales

An absolute banger of a follow up to the first game even if it isnt a full sequel. The game is visually incredible and very colorful, swinging and fighting are as fun as ever, the venom powers (especially the dazzling full burst) are fun as hell to use, and the characters and story really shine.

The opening chase/fight sequence really sets the tone for what ends up being about 10-15 hours of fun, intensity, and visual spectacle. Some great set pieces and cool boss fights. I really enjoyed playing as Miles and his personal connection to certain villains in the story. The conflict was great and the ending definitely hit just right and reached a similar emotional height as the ending of the first game.

The endgame postcard scavenger hunt also had great payoff and some solid emotional impact.

The game is a breeze to play, where just about everything you do is fun by simple virtue of the game being a joy to look at and travel through. They also removed the stealth missions from the first game which, while I didnt mind them, was a welcome change. Performance was also rock solid for my PS4 slim which was a pleasant surprise. Framerates dipped a little toward the end and for a couple seconds in the epilogue but that's literally it. Cant imagine how smooth it is on PS5.

Christmas time New York also looked great and the atmosphere once a late game storm hits combined with the balls to wall action of the finale was incredibly engaging.

There are also cool little details like Miles being a less coordinated web swinger than Peter. You can see him losing rhythm and at times even slamming into the ground ungracefully.

There is a touching Stan Lee tribute hidden in the city as well which was great to see.

Really pumped for a full sequel to the first game and, as teased in MM, really excited to see Miles and Peter team up more. With the heroic Spider-Cat making a trio of course.

Game is pure fun and does a great job of making you want to 100% all districts.

  1. Cyberpunk 2077

I’ll preface this one by saying that while I enjoyed The Witcher 3 quite a bit after playing it for the first time a few months ago, I am by no means a CDPR superfan and didn’t really care about them more or less than any other developer and only really became familiar with the name, and played Witcher 3, because everyone’s hype about CP2077 seemed to hinge on CDPR’s reputation. I followed none of the hype otherwise, none of the development, nothing, which I think benefited my experience quite a bit.

Because even playing on my PS4 slim, I absolutely loved the game. The issues, which I’ll elaborate on, are obvious and persistent, and some definitely hindered the overall experience, but I enjoyed the positive aspects of the game more than enough to make up for it.

First the issues. The game crashed quite a bit over my 40-50 hr playthrough, though not nearly as frequently as AC:Valhalla. This was probably the biggest problem second to the combat being extremely choppy and unsynced when you first get into an encounter. AI and NPC behavior was poor. Another big issue was the controls being outright unresponsive a lot of the time. It was real hit or miss whether switching camera in/on a vehicle would actually switch me to 3rd person, sometimes guns just wouldn’t fire or were stuck in ADS, sometimes my arm grenade launcher just wouldnt activate, etc. These were extremely annoying but not game breaking. Then you have the unloaded textured for characters when you enter a new area that take a few seconds to fully render. In once instance, a building I needed to exit had doors, the only egress, that just wouldn’t open. This prevented me from doing absolutely anything once I finished that quest. Fortunately I didn’t do this quest until after the main campaign so it wasn’t too annoying. And finally, the most annoying bug was the final boss getting stuck on the environment, making the final fight a joke.

I understand if all that is a deal breaker for a lot of players, but I pushed through and absolutely loved it. The cityscape was amazing and i loved walking and cruising through the neon lit streets, especially at night and in the rain or with wet roads. Visually that is where the game shines the brightest. I liked the bromance between my V and Johnny Silverhand, and i really enjoyed building relationships with all the main cast. Judy and Panam were great characters with great questlines, Johnny was a great inclusion, a Takemura was awesome.

The combat, once it smoothed out after early frame rate drops, was a lot of fun and game you some cool tools between tech weapons, smart weapons, katanas, cybernetics, and quick hacks. I used primarily powerful handguns, katana, and quickhacks in my combat and the occasional use from Panam’s rifle.

I enjoyed where the story went and the wealth of side missions that actually felt consequential, and really enjoyed getting the good ending on first playthrough. It felt meaningful and rewarding.

While I loved the game, I acknowledge it is deeply flawed but am hopeful to see how amazing it will be after several more patches. I’ll look forward to fully replaying the campaign once the PS5 version comes out.

  1. Doom Eternal

Holy fucking shit this game was intense. I think it completely blew 2016 out of the water in pretty much every way. The graphics are better with the backgrounds and all the carnage, the gore system is incredible with how demons come apart as you shoot them, the new demons were all great and every combat encounter made you actually think about strategy, traversal, which weapons to use and when, etc. It was just so much more fun and engaging than 2016. Probably liked those snake enemies the least but preferred them to the teleporting floating ones from 2016. The Maurauders and Doom Hunters made for a badass frantic inclusion to already insane encounters and switching up approaches when each one entered the fray was a blast. I also liked the boss fights much more than in 2016. And the archviles and buff totems were a great inclusion that gave a new sense of frantic urgency to their sections.

One of the best new mechanics I think was getting your ammo and shields from demons during combat. Strategizing when to blaze them for armor or chainsaw for ammo was great. Then you have the new abilities like the grenade launcher, blood punch, the sword, and dash which was an incredible addition. Also the chainsaw regenerating over time was a welcome change.

The extra life system was great and kept you in the flow of the combat and missing a jump didn't mean you died, just respawned with a slight loss of armor/health. The progression system was solid and provided a ton of options.

Then there's the platforming, which honestly i enjoyed quite a bit. Hitting a series of jumps through traps or timing a platforming puzzle just right felt great. The only part I hated was the very last bit on Urdak but I ended up getting it after several tries.

The humor was great too as far as the way people react to you or when Samuel tells you you can't blow a hole in Mars.

I honestly can't think of much the 2016 did better other than having an unlimited pistol to take out weak fodder and allowing you to stagger weaker enemies with melee. Eternal also could have used some more of those timed power ups like Quad Damage and Berserk. I didn't mind the more cartoonish enemy aesthetics because the violence is so cartoonish, but I did prefer some of the enemy designs in 2016. Overall I think Eternal took everything 2016 did great and improved on it in pretty much every way they could have. Didnt care for the swimming or the tentacle enemies, but they were a fraction of the game. I thought the soundtrack in both was beautiful and blood pumping but Eternal had some standouts with the more melancholy choir music on Urdak or the chanting during certain songs.

What an incredible experience. It was lighting fast, intense, brutal, and unrelentingly exhilarating from start to finish. Loved it. I think it is my favorite FPS.

Jumped into the Ancient Gods Part 1 DLC a couple months after finishing the main game and it takes pretty much everything I loved about DE and cranks it up to 666. The sheer number of enemies in the arena at one time, the multiple types forcing you to strategize on the fly, the increased difficulty, it all made for an insanely intense few hours. They added a spirit mechanic which i though was a cool addition wherein a spirit can posses a demon and once you kill the demon you must then ghost busters the spirit with an energy beam or it retreats to possess another one. Added another level of strategy to the already frenetic combat. I didnt really care for the ranged eyeball enemies but there were enough cool additions to overlook my distaste for them. The final arena of the second chapter was also insanely hard until I barely got through it. Much harder than the final boss, but I enjoyed it.

The story is very Doom and ended on a hell of a cliff hanger. Great expansion.

  1. Ghost of Tsushima

This game got its hooks in me from the very first second and I absolutely could not get enough, which you’ll notice has been the case for a few games on this list which makes for an absolutely incredible year in current gen gaming after having sat out for so long. After finishing the game within a week of release, I find myself diving back into Tsushima nearly every day to just ride around and get into combat encounters.

GoT is an absolutely stunning visual powerhouse and what it may lack in some textures and animations, it more than makes up for in the beautifully stylized environments, the radiant sky, the splashes of color throughout the world. The Field of the Equinox Flower is my favorite area to just roam around in in the post game.

The combat is probably one of my favorite combat systems, creating such a cool feel as you slice through Mongols with your Katana, switching through stances to best fight certain enemies, using your ghost tools to evade and distract, and the parrying is so damn satisfying when you get it right. Clearing a whole group or camp of enemies without sustaining any damage on Lethal difficulty is one of the most satisfying combat experiences I’ve had. The blades, yours and those of the Mongols, felt dangerous and deadly, especially on higher difficulties. The dynamic blood effects were awesome and made for a cool scene of aftermath as you rotate the camera across the battle field after an encounter. I do wish they had let loose a bit more with the dismemberment instead of making decaps exclusively for sneak kills on generals, but it being in there at all was awesome.

The set pieces were absolutely breathtaking as well. Seizing strongholds, rescuing hostages, epic battles with all your allies, the fucking insane duels with the Ronin… everything had such an epic cinematic feel that I couldn’t help but be in awe of the entire playthrough.

I loved the story and the characters, while it was simple, I loved that Jin was the one we followed through the tale. His calm stoicism carried an awesome gravitas with such a sense of duty that I, as the player, felt compelled to help absolutely everyone I could. If a hostage I saved told me they had been nabbed at a crossroad held by the Mongols, I’d liberate it every single time. Not for completionism sake, but because I felt deeply involved in Jin’s journey and knew that’s what he would do. His stoicism also provided a great contrast to the few times he actually emotes, which made each of those instances very powerful.

The supporting cast is also amazing, each coming with their own mini-campaign that you do in the form of side quests. I can’t think of one of their quests that I wouldn’t play to completion if it was its own full game. It added so much to the characters and their stories and seeing how it all unfolded was an absolute pleasure.

The Khan also made for a compelling villain and, while he may seem a little one-dimensional during the cutscenes, letters that you collect throughout the world shed some really cool insight into his character and flesh him out more. Even so, the last push to finally take him out was an incredibly satisfying experience.

And your horse. Your sweet sweet horse….

Then of course you have Lord Shimura who is an excellent foil to Jin and adds an emotional depth to his story, culminating in a decision that I stared at the screen for a good 5 minutes before making. The conclusion of their arc put a perfectly tied bow on the unbelievably stunning package that was Ghost of Tsushima.

For the gameplay itself, outside of the combat, the game is incredibly player friendly. So many awesome QOL choices like allowing pretty unlimited fast travel, easily picking up items, etc and the wind mechanic for navigation added a great layer of depth to the immersion. Playing with no HUD was very satisfying while never sacrificing your time by getting lost or having to consult a map.

Like everyone else, I feel like the game is still missing some key features like the ability to replay missions, reset duels and outposts, have single player combat mini-games, etc but the update for NG+ and Legends definitely add a ton to the experience.

But the biggest thing about the game that surprised me was just how calming and serene the game could be. Playing the flute, writing haiku, reflecting on your journey, just walking through the environment and listening to the wind or the distant thunder, it juxtaposed the spurts of brutality in such a way I haven’t really experienced in a game the same way. To add to that, playing in Kurosawa mode and/or with Japanese audio infuses such a cool layer of authenticity to the experience.

Overall, I am perfectly comfortable labelling Ghost of Tsushima as one of my all timers. Just an absolute joy to play.

  1. The Last of Us Part 2

I played the first game for the first time within the last couple of years and replayed TLOU and Left Behind in the week leading up to Part 2 and as soon as I finished Part 2 I realized that week had been my favorite narrative experience in all gaming.

For being undoubtedly one of the most divisive game of all time, I probably consider it to be my personal GOAT. Graphically, the game is absolutely stunning. From the environment, the wealth of details, the animations, it all came together to make for one of the very best visual experiences in the media.

Gameplay wise, it follows a lot of the same loops as the original with a mix of exploration, stealth, and direct combat, but the combat is where the gameplay really sets itself apart. It is a lot more mechanically rich than the first game with the inclusion of the dodge mechanic, jumping, prone position, and more verticality in the level design. The levels also allow you to create a lot more fun combat situations. Then the sheer brutality of the combat takes it to another level. It is the most viscerally brutal combat I've ever seen with absolutely insane gore and damage effects. Everything you do has consequence and impact and it gets to the point you start to feel bad for what you're doing to enemies. That said, replaying the encounters in the months since I finished the game has been a blast.

But all of that are just icing on what I consider to be the cake of the game, its story. Fucking brutal, punishing, harrowing, and engaging from start to finish. They made some bold moves narratively, which a lot of people understandably hated, but every divisive story choice had a specific reason and they absolutely worked for me. Following the journey was exhausting and once it was all done I just stared at the screen and thought about it nonstop for the next few weeks. I've written an in-depth analysis on here before which I am happy to share, since I expect many will strongly disagree with TLOU2 being in the #1 spot. But god damn I loved everything about the game. And while the story turned so many away, I adored it for its ambition as well as its execution. It completely tears your guts out but by the end gives you just enough to put yourself back together.

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