10. Untitled Goose Game
Every once in awhile a videogame comes along that just clicks with everyone. No fancy cutscenes needed. No complex gameplay to be seen. Katamari Damacy was that game in the PS2 era. This generation we got *HONK* You play as a goose who terrorizes a small English village. The simple mechanics (honk, grab, and poke) combine with a piano soundtrack that dynamically follows the action to make solving puzzles hilarious and fun even when things go awry. It puts a smile on your face.
How do you reimagine a game with the history and legacy of DOOM? You don’t. Doom (2016) opens with your character pushing aside a monitor alerting you to a demonic invasion mid status update and pulling out their gun. For the next 20hours the heavy metal tunes from Mick Gordon are a backdrop to a non stop chorus of righteous gorey over the top demon killing. You shoot, you rip apart, you shove horns in places they don’t belong, and you chain saw imps in half. Yes, there’s still a chainsaw on Mars. Don’t ask questions.
08. Forza Horizon 4
It's a weird thing but as consoles have gotten more powerful old genres that once set the pace for technology and fan expectations have fallen aside. Racing games hit a plateau early on in this generation and people stopped being excited about them even as they kept getting better. The Forza games (racing focused Motorsport and driving focused Horizon) have set new benchmarks with each release so it's no surprise that in their fourth outing Playground Games delivered a digital take on England and its distinct four seasons that delivers fun no matter what you want to do with four wheels. Drive, race, crash, stunt, or explore. It's all there waiting.
07. What Remains of Edith Finch
Some players may derisively dismiss games like this as “walking simulators” but so many games put action in front of the story, or complex gameplay in the way of telling a tale. This game is simple enough to play that anyone can pick up a controller and see the tale through in an afternoon. You’re a girl exploring a house, learning what happened to the generations of Finch’s that came before you. Where you fall in that story, and what that story says about life is one I’ll leave for you to find.
06. Assassins Creed Odyssey
I had started to write something describing the massive world you get to explore, the people you meet along the way, and even the perfectly mixed scifi & fantasy... but really this game made my list because of Kassandra. Ubisoft has a history building amazing games and then putting a generic white dude as the main character. This game doesn’t do that. The writing and performance (voice & motion capture) work that went into her is amazing. That’s why I spent a 120hrs sailing the world seeking adventure. Not the pretty visuals or the clunky mix of stealth & combat. Kassandra.
05. Sea of Thieves
You sail an old fashioned ship around an ocean. Either by yourself (in a little dingy) or in a multi-mast ship with friends. Cannons have to be manually loaded one shot at a time. You have to nail boards up to patch holes in the hull. There may even be the occasional sea monster you have to fight off the deck. Its the perfect multiplayer game for friends to play together. There’s always just a bit too much going on for even 4 players to manage, and that sense of chaos is perfectly balanced by the playful visuals & tone.
04. Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order
The first videogame that really nailed the feeling of wielding a lightsaber combines with stunning visuals to tickle all the Star Wars nostalgia in your heart. A balanced mix of exploration and combat keeps you moving along while the story takes risks you wish the movies did. Great performances bring the whole thing together all the way to the end. My only quibbles would be with how combat feels weighted towards the end of the game when you have all your powers and abilities upgraded, but maybe that’s just because being a Jedi is more exciting than being a Padawan.
03. God of War (2018)
You never leave the point of view of the main character, and the game never breaks that single take cinematography style. The end effect is that on multiple fronts this videogame sets new expectations. Performances, visuals, storytelling... nothing is less than perfect. At most I could quibble about how rough going combat feels at first, or the story feels a bit padded after the halfway mark. Even then, I’d still recommend this game hands down to anyone looking for something to check out on their Playstation 4.
02. Witcher 3
The last two games on my list seem very similar at first. They both feature big open worlds set in a medieval fantasy genre. Your hero collects new abilities and gear as they explore and unravel mysteries. You even have a faithful horse companion in both. The difference is that the Witcher features storytelling and characters that are darker than anything Nintendo would ever approach. Thankfully the dark never sinks the player into cynicism which is sometimes a problem in “adult” storytelling. *Cough* Game of Thrones *Cough* Unlike Zelda, you choose how to treat other characters and how to resolve problems. Your choices and how they affect the world are unmatched here. What you do will have a HUGE impact in whether the world is saved, or not.
01. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This series can lay claim to being one of the first open world videogames. The promise of exploration has been hobbled by limitations of technology and design for decades. Until now. An interlocking set of systems build into a world that meets your expectations for things like “my wooden stick will catch fire if I wave it in a fire.” Then it gives you the unexpected when things like a gust of wind blowing an enemies campfire into that set of conveniently placed exploding barrels. As you explore the broken world of Hyrule you’ll manually mark your map with notes of things to investigate, and slowly piece together the story of how the heroes lost the battle with Gannon. Rarely do videogames have you fail, and even rarer do games start their journey after said failure. The quiet melancholy of a world waiting for rebirth makes this an experience you won’t forget.
> For more discussion about just this game go here: https://www.critical-distance.com/2020/09/16/breath-of-the-wild/.
This one really touched everyone, including me.
Marvel’s Spider-Man - I really loved this game, but when making my list it felt like the flip side of Jedi Fallen Order. If you’re more into superheroes you could just swap this one in that spot on the list. Otherwise this would be my #11 game of the generation.
Control - I just never got around to picking up everyone’s 2019’s “game of the year.” The developers telegraphed that an upgraded version would roll out on the next-gen systems this year. And so I’m waiting for when it does.
Persona 5 or Final Fantasy 7 Remake - Haven’t played them yet, but these Japanese developed role playing games are supposed to be some of the all time greats.
Kentucky Route Zero - It's not a genre I usually play, and it was released in pieces over the generation. So I haven’t gotten around to playing it. However, it appeared on multiple best of lists every year.
Uncharted 4 - They’re always good games, but honestly they have too much combat and too much story padding. This one was no different.
The Last of Us 2 - I’m sorry but a depressing take on humanity isn’t made better by the developers putting a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into making it the most polished PS4 game of the generation. Yes your tech is amazing, but my god could you tell a story that isn’t a single bleak note hammered again and again?
Red Dead Redemption 2 - As an experience it's unparalleled. As a videogame it's not good. Clunky controls (both movement and how you interact with the world). Forgettable music. A storyline that goes nowhere over & over combines with an uncharismatic main character you’ll struggle to give a shit about.
Ghosts of Tsushima - They were clearly inspired by Assassin’s Creed games and so when it came time to make my list I went with the game that didn’t have me fighting the camera and my enemies at the same time.
Outer Wilds - The concept is better than the execution. That’s it. The idea of being stuck in a time loop is a great way to keep a space exploration game from being unfun when you get stranded on a planet, but moving interacting with those environments is so clunky that you don’t feel like getting out of bed when time resets.
Neir: Automata - I won’t give away any spoilers, but know that when you see the game over screen for the first time... there’s more to come. It doesn’t make my top 10 list because the story just doesn’t really come across as anything but a series of buzzwords and haughty philosophy statements spoken by scantily clad sexy androids.
Bloodborne & Seirko - I don’t like really hard and/or punishing videogames. The “souls-like” genre is just that. So I didn’t play these games.
Fortnite - I don’t find a lot of enjoyment in multiplayer only focused combat games. So I don’t play them. Also, is this really a game anymore? Or is it an entertainment platform that now lives on every device with a screen?