I know what you’re here for. You heard the siren call of the prospect of a list. A numbered list, in order of quality. You’re one sick nasty freak, you know that? You make me sick. You wanna know something? I love that you’re a freak too, because I’m a freak, and a freak like me needs company. I didn’t just make one numbered list in order of quality, I made 5 of them. On top of that, they’re all video games. That’s right, video games. Is that enough for you? No, I knew it wasn’t. That’s why I’m selectively including snippets of text of varying length that elaborate on their quality and/or how they resonated with me personally. Is that nasty enough for you? Jesus Christ I’m sick of looking at you. Fix yourself up before you make a mess in here, God Damnit.
A List Of Games I Played In 2021 That I Want To Talk About But Don’t Have The Energy To Write Mini-Essays For But If You Message Me On Twitter About Them I Will Most Likely Reply With A Lengthy Thread
7. Halo 4
6. Halo Infinite
5. Resident Evil 7
4. Resident Evil Village
3. Remnant: From The Ashes
2. Fallout: New Vegas
1. Dark Souls 2: Scholar Of The First Sin
Games I Have Zero Excuse For Not Finishing But Were Really Great In The Time I Spent With Them And I’m Probably Going To Finish Them Soon (Probably, Hopefully)
3. The Good Life
Perhaps due to open world fatigue and a general malaise surrounding Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro’s work since his incredibly well handled expression of trans issues in the incredible The Missing, and then a seeming regression and total undoing of all that good faith in Deadly Premonition 2, when I got my backer code for The Good Life that I had pledged years before any of this had even happened, I was less than optimistic. Then SWERY tricked me again, because this game is charming. It captures the weirdness of exploring a new, alienating space and unraveling secrets of escalating strangeness so well. It’s funny, it’s constantly surprising, and I wanna finish it at some point. This recommendation does come with the caveat, though, that I totally understand if someone has been put off by Deadly Premonition 2 and wouldn’t want to support his work. I can’t say for certain if The Good Life handles trans issues well, or at all, since I haven’t finished it. I’ve only seen a single reference to transgender people at all once, in passing, as a reference to The Missing. I wanna say that if you’re a person with zero expectations who loves when characters just find themselves caught up in progressively weirder situations one after another, maybe give this a look. As an old friend of mine said when he first started playing Deadly Premonition, “they don’t make games like this anymore.”
2. NieR: Replicant
I’ve only finished the game once and have struggled to find the energy to go back and play more, not out of a lack of enjoyment or wanting to learn more about what in the world is even going on, but just because I’m an adult man with too many Elden Rings to play. Still, NieR: Replicant was very touching, and it was a real joy seeing the origins of a game I really loved in NieR: Automata play out in front of me. I will say that I played it on hard mode and it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that there was an Execute button, so that DID make a bunch of fights needlessly difficult for me, especially in the second half. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
1. Disco Elysium Final Cut
There’s really not much I can say about this game that hasn’t been said elsewhere, especially not on this website. It took me a while to work myself up to start playing it, and I’m glad I did, and it’s definitely one of the top on my list to go back to as soon as possible. A couple things I didn’t expect going into it after cultural osmosis conditioned me to believe this game was simply a praxis simulator with flowery prose (which it totally still is) was that A) I didn’t realize just how approachable this game was. I could totally show this game to my mom and she would probably love it, and despite her once proudly claiming to me that she knew what EXP was, she doesn’t really play video games. And B) I had no idea how absolutely funny this game is. I knew the premise was inherently comical as much as it was sad, but so much of it feels like you’re in the middle of an improv set where someone is setting you up to go along with a bit, and your response comes out so naturally, and it lands every time. Very few games, even really funny games, set this up nearly as well and it’s nowhere near the primary focus of this game. You don’t need me to tell you to check this out.
I was very tempted to put this in the next section, but I can’t without lying to myself. The fact of the matter is that Together BnB, through the initial livestream we did and the proceeding hilarious patch notes and developer updates Aurora Games would put out, gave me so much enjoyment throughout all of 2021. The game is what it is, a (then) aspiring porn game without any porn in it that is also a full hunting combat and basketball simulator. It’s now 2022, Together BnB finally has nudity in it. I haven’t played any of the new content and I’m not jumping at the chance to find out what it’s like, because nothing to me will be nearly as funny as their developer notes talking about “simulated fluid physics” and how they had to switch motion capture studios during development for Some Reason.
I haven’t circled back on Knockout City to see if it managed to have a longer shelf-life as a multiplayer centric game but I hope it did. It managed to recreate the fun and the feeling of yomi you get from online shooters and fighting games, while wrapped in a really fun teen-core aesthetic. You could tell they really wanted to make dodgeball cool. It was really easy to just hop into games, get into an amped up flow state and make some really amazing plays that you NEED to immediately grab a recording of or else nobody will believe you, because the second you group up on a team of friends who are all joking around, you get less focused and start playing like a doofus. I know my friends don’t care, they’re just having fun. But I care. And also for some reason Ron is really good at this game and I don’t wanna embarrass him. Man, Ron is great…
First Class Trouble
Invisible Walls has had the absolutely Sisyphean task of making a social deduction game that primarily revolves around voice chat and trying to keep the community from being as toxic as humanly possible. I think they deserve a shoutout for that at the very least. First Class Trouble isn’t just what their moderation team goes through on a daily basis, it’s also a pretty fun social deduction game. It’s way looser with its rules than something like Among Us, which is very rigid by design. Someone dies, someone finds the body, people vote on who did it. It’s a formula that works extremely well. Invisible Walls decided to take this concept and center it around Hitman style environmental kills, along with the ability for two players to team up to kill anyone they suspect of being a traitor. It’s very chaotic and, when it’s banging on all cylinders, it’s a ton of fun. One thing this game does that all social deduction games should have going forward is a system where players can assign points to other players based on how much or how little they trust them. While point assignment is anonymous, every player can see how many Trust or Sus points other players have. This absolutely rocks and needs to be implemented in more games along this vein, because it feels sort of wasted in a game with way less contemplative downtime, and way more socially engineering a situation into getting two innocent people to murder another innocent person simply by yelling the correct way.
FF7 Remake: Intermission
One thing I really wasn’t a huge fan of in FF7R was how often you needed to pause the game and go into the menu to do a move. I know this style of gameplay landed for a lot of people and helped give the illusion that it was more of an RPG than an action game, but FF7R worked best for me when I was just playing as Cloud, fighting everything by myself with all my best skills assigned to use without breaking the flow of combat by going into a menu. The decision to make the Intermission DLC centered around playing as Yuffie was brilliant in this regard. Sure, she has her buddy Sonon there to help her out, but you are unable to take active control of him, which means you stay as Yuffie the entire time. Her playstyle is also really interesting. She has a bunch of all-rounder abilities inspired by ones used by other Ninja jobs in the Final Fantasy universe, as well as the ability to seamlessly shift between using her huge throwing star as close range and long range weapon. She simply feels fun to play as, and it gives me hope that future FF7R content makes us spend way less time starting and stopping.
DELTARUNE Chapter 2
The first part of Deltarune felt extremely wild, as if anything could happen in a post Undertale universe. With the release of Chapter 2, that feeling has subsided as all the characters have been laid out and their roles established. While Chapter 2 is certainly fun (and extremely funny), part of the magic of just playing a post-Undertale Undertale game feels a little lost. I think Toby Fox recognized this, which is why he implemented the Snowgrave route in Chapter 2, a spiritual successor to the No Mercy route in Undertale. Chapter 1 set up this premise that mercy or no mercy, you can beat the game as intended no matter what. Most players will probably gravitate towards a pacifist playthrough, and Undertale being a flexible game that shapes itself around your decisions must have felt somewhat untenable to do again. Instead, Snowgrave centers around the player making a ton of weird, arbitrary decisions counter to how the game would be played normally in order to coerce another character into doing awful things. It’s a great commentary on how often, in RPGs, players can seemingly convince other characters to do things for pretty much no effort and they’ll bend over backwards to help you. It plays into ideas of gaslighting and manipulation, and it’s a genuinely heartbreaking route to play through.
It also created the absolute dirt worst discourse of people who would not stop talking about how Kris is such a perfect and sweet kid and how the naughty player made them do such evil things. I’m not saying the game doesn’t play into the idea of a division between player and character, but the absolute adamant refusal to at all inspect the nature of players inhabiting characters and what it says about the meaning of choice in games is extremely intellectually dishonest, and I’ve seen people defend this point almost violently. It’s tiring. Anyways you know a game is good when it can make people this fucking crazy.
Hot Wheels Unleashed
Very few games let me experience the joy of skipping over half of a race by flying over the track in a car that says EPIC BIG NUTS 69. Hot Wheels Unleashed feels almost tailor-made to make extremely memorable experiences through player creation. I’ll never forget being in a group call and attempting Skill Showdown for the first time, every single one of us screaming at the absurd yet still fun challenges this unbelievably talented creator made us do in order to complete the course. I’ll equally never forget Engineer Insane, a course constructed flawlessly to be as scientifically unfun to play as humanly possible. It includes a part where you’re using all your energy and momentum in order to make it up a piece of track that is both uphill and at an unnatural angle until you realize that the track you’re driving on is literally physically broken in half in order to bend in a completely different direction. I’ve never seen another course in Hot Wheels Unleashed attempt anything even remotely as insanely engineered.
5. Halo 5
Why did they do this? Why did they make this? How come in Halo Infinite, they just scrap the major universe changing plot line at the end of this game entirely, other than it was just poorly received? It really is mesmerizing just how much of Halo 5 is going to go completely unanswered to the remarkable tragedy of time. Everyone has forgotten about it. I didn’t forget. I can’t forget this. I need answers. Someone tell me why you fought the same boss 6 or 7 times (I lost count). Why were they clearly trying to set up an Avengers style group of Spartans with their own powers and barely 3 personalities between them that was going to face a universe ending threat? Why won’t 343 acknowledge the ramifications of this game except when they 100% absolutely need to in order to make Halo Infinite any sense? I’m begging you please, somebody give me an answer.
4. Back 4 Blood
They should call it Bad 4 Blood.
Scott’s Top 5 Games Of 2021
5. War Of The Visions: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius
You may be asking yourself, “Scott, you idiot, why did you put a two year old gacha game on your top games of 2021, you rube, you fool, you absolute mark?” My answer to you is simply that this game is good. I’m sorry, it is. It’s plagued with gacha mechanics, sure. I get it, plenty of people don’t want to deal with that. But its recreation of Final Fantasy Tactics mechanics set in a portable, ever updating game is immediately appealing to me. The real reason it’s on my top games of 2021 list, though, is that the regular story updates kept me gripped all throughout the year. They clearly had a rough start constructing their narrative, having different groups of characters go places in order to simply go somewhere else and then go somewhere else again, but somewhere before the end of Book 1, they hit their stride. Main characters in the story, characters that you get from gacha pulls, started getting killed off. A bunch of elaborate Chekov’s Guns were set up in order to be fired off one after another. Occasionally, the 3D in-engine cutscenes which were mostly just people standing around and talking would get extremely well animated and well shot fight scenes just out of nowhere. The first book resolved in the perfect 1 on 1 showdown between the protagonist Mont and his brother Sterne as a playable bossfight.
Then, in the interlude The Book Of Hatred, they absolutely stepped their game up and set up an amazing confrontation between Mont’s two prospective brides to be, Glaciela and Macherie, who both come from nations with uneasy tensions towards each other, which results in both of the princesses getting into a long drawn out fight. It takes multiple twists until a person invested in the result of the fight named Viktora, who had previously secretly betrayed Glaciela but still managed to retain her trust, attempts to interject herself into the battle, which creates this tension of Macherie seeing through Viktora and trying to convince Glaciela that she’s not on her side. Macherie succeeds, and the two start fighting side by side, all by themselves, after a long drawn out battle between each other depleting them both against Viktora’s seemingly endless reinforcements, spelling an end to both of them. And then something miraculous happens. Mont shows up just in time… to see that they’ve both already won. Both Macherie and Glaciela are lying on the floor next to each other, holding hands, confessing their affection towards each other. It’s an amazing moment that tops such a good story, and the second book since then has been full of equally good moments. There were plenty of times this past year where I’ve been genuinely excited to see a new story update for WOTV, and plenty more times where I’ve absolutely popped off at something extremely cool happening. I’ve never had an experience this good with a gacha game in my life.
4. Chivalry 2
chivalry 2 rocks. everyone should play chivalry 2 (its in open beta rn). its so fucking fun. here's the story of my tiny archer with no armor who ran out of arrows, picked up a war axe, and went on a killing spree pic.twitter.com/UwQXrbyYSR
— discontent creator scott b (@FKAsocks) May 29, 2021
More games need a dedicated Yell button. Chivalry 2 manages to fill a niche of both historically accurate and also arcadey fun with large scale medieval warfare. Much like Chivalry and Mordhau before it, it’s a game that asks the question “what if Battlefield had swords?” Every class, too, is extremely fun to play as. It’s great running into a group of people as a knight with full armor, swinging a greatsword into a group of guys. It’s great being a foot soldier, laying traps for enemies to run into and then banging them over the head with a shovel. It’s great being an archer and going absolutely John Wick on a bunch of dudes with swords who are dead set on killing you simply for being an archer and will spam chat with hate messages.
They also made the absolutely brilliant decision of having players respawn together in waves a decent distance away from the battle taking place, meaning you get these moments of you and your comrades in arms all running together. Someone hits the yell button (usually me), and then you hear all of your fellow soldiers also start to yell with you as you run headlong into combat only to get your head chopped off 5 seconds later. There’s nothing quite like it in gaming right now, so it’s good to see it still having legs even into 2022. They also rolled out a tavern brawl mode, where players will spawn in a small arena, equipped with nothing, and full of stuff you can pick up off the floor and throw at each other. It’s such great dumb fun, and it teaches players a valuable skill that you can take into the proper sword swinging war mode.
3. NERTS! Online
If you told me Zachtronics, the people behind a very specific style of game in Infinifactory, Opus Magnum, and Exa Punks, would put out a competitive Solitaire game that is the epitome of esports, I would laugh at the funny joke you made. NERTS! Online is no joke. It’s as serious as high-speed, high stakes competitive online Solitaire gets. Despite playing a bunch of fast paced online games in 2021 between Chivalry 2, Knockout City, and Halo Infinite, nothing holds a candle to the heart-racing breakneck pace of Competitive. Online. Solitaire. It’s easily the most fun I’ve had with a multiplayer game all year, and occasionally I’ll dip into it every now and then to see what the landscape is like, if people have managed to find new Solitaire tech in order to break the game. Instead, some really good players will win the game very easily, not hit the I Won button, and then just sit there and play a normal game of Solitaire through while letting a lobby of other players do the same thing. Somehow, players have managed to turn this absolutely nut busting esports game into a nice, chill, relaxing multiplayer Solitaire experience, and I think that’s great. Nothing, though, will be nearly as insulting as seeing another player’s cursor hover over your cards and show you a play that you can make that you never saw.
This game is just cool. Many people have only seen or only enjoyed the first part of the game, the cabin section, so much so that Daniel Mullins released a standalone endless mode expansion of just that part of the game. I think the beauty of Inscryption, though, is how well it takes its core card game and translates it into separate iterations over the course of playing the game. Moving from this weird little escape room roguelike section to a part that evokes a GBA style Popular Trading Card Game: The Game aesthetic, to a lonely and soulless industrial-core atmosphere paired with Dark Souls style mechanics. I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t like these parts of the game, and I think they’re absolutely nuts! Each part encourages the player to explore the boundaries of the mechanics to create absurdly broken strategies. The standard deck builder section does it simply by letting you build your own deck, and the final section teaches you the importance of trimming your deck in order to get more optimal draws. As fun as Kaycee’s Mod is, I wish these other sections got more love as well! I would love to play endless modes against extremely more powerful decks in a mode that makes me seriously consider my card choices, or one that focuses around the more Hearthstone-like mechanics. I’m sure it would be an absurd thing to balance, but hell, even a multiplayer mode would go miles. My only gripe is that there isn’t more of it to play!
1. Cruelty Squad
It’s not hard to find Cruelty Squad talked about in the most reductive ways possible. I’ve seen it described as “just a huge shitpost” or called a doomer game, or called a shitty shooter with “booo isn’t capitalism bad” hamfisted in. The thing about good art, though, is that it can draw this kind of reaction, that it can be utterly alienating and still be captivating. It doesn’t matter whether or not Ville Callio deliberately set out to make a game that manages to be such a poignant reflection of millennial malaise, the brutal inhumanity of the gig economy, and the divine altar of the capitalist market that both liberals and conservatives alike cannot simply stop worshiping under. The fact is that he did it, and it fucking rules.
Cruelty Squad is, to me, a full-throated anti-capitalist screed. Through its satire, it paints a world where market forces and divinity become intertwined, and the dollar is worth more than human life. Lesser games like The Artful Escape will try to sell to you just how big and cool and important its message is while being utterly shallow and trite. Tons and tons of games in our contemporary gaming landscape try to be dirty and weird but still sacrifice part of their message to be accessible. In this vein, Cruelty Squad is as subversive as it gets. It’s so subversive that absolute clown, Drawn To Death’s David Jaffe, for some reason thought it would be something he’d enjoy, and then proudly claimed he got a refund for it.
This game isn’t good, though, because some absolute fools don’t understand it. This game is good because it understands modern gaming conventions so well and completely undercuts them at every step, and is still fun as hell. It looks terrible, using extremely low poly models and almost gleefully disregarding any kind of anti-aliasing. The textures are extremely low res and vividly colorful in a way that makes it look like a child built it out of legos that were not color coordinated, and then also the kid threw up on them a little bit for good measure. The music sounds like presets from a broken casio keyboard, all the notes being just slightly off-key. What Consumer Softproducts has made here is not simply ugly, it’s a triumph. Playing it for the first time can be headache inducing, and yet you eventually get used to it, realizing just how much care and consideration was put into this game’s utterly perplexing aesthetic.
The enemies all stand out visually, even when the comically bad lighting system draws them in complete shadows. You can always tell who is an enemy and who is a civilian, which makes gunning down civilians even accidentally, an act that has seemingly no penalty whatsoever and honestly some real upsides in the organ trading market, still make you feel like shit. Unique enemies are visually distinct like the constantly respawning naked zombie creatures that feel like they’re straight out of a creepypasta of a game from the Nintendo 64, or the Necromechs that are simply extremely large police officers that are dual wielding LMGs.
still haven't figured out my goty list but… i'm definitely leaning in some kinda direction pic.twitter.com/gTTKJvXkSq
— discontent creator scott b (@FKAsocks) December 25, 2021
It’s not just the visuals and the music that make this game so different from any contemporary shooter. It plays and looks like the Rainbow Six games for the original PlayStation, which relied on an extremely quick time to kill for both you and the enemies, making every time you stare anyone down an extremely tense “who can pull the trigger first” scenario. You reload by right clicking and dragging the cursor off screen just like a lightgun game a la Time Crisis. The levels are huge, but not like the big open world maps most people are used to. Instead, Ville directly drew inspiration from Super Mario 64 to make them both tightly contained and full of weird secrets, on top of silly little gags for players to find. There’s obvious stuff like NPCs that will deliver absurd lines to you, but sometimes you’ll find a hallway that just gets progressively smaller until it gets so small that you can’t exit. You can also go to the hall where that exit leads out of, and just see an incredibly tiny door on the floor. One of the people you’re meant to assassinate in the second level, Paradise, is in a room where the walls are covered in an extremely low res texture of Funko Pops. If you die too many times, you are put in Easy Mode without a specific explanation that you’ve been put in easy mode. The writing in the game, too, is truly impeccable. For as iconic as the Dark Souls “You Died” screen is, it’s forever topped by the words “DIVINE LIGHT SEVERED” in my personal lexicon.
Cruelty Squad is an incredible journey. Despite it being so different from everything else in the gaming space in 2021, it still managed to sell incredibly well and find a huge audience. It’s a testament to how the hegemonization of AAA games will never satisfy everyone forever, and that people are always looking for experiences that are different and challenging, not just in gameplay but in other, more intangible spiritual and political ways as well. I played a lot of games this past year. Even while I was typing away in a virtual command line, searching for secrets as part of Inscryption’s ARG, I was still thinking about what a beautifully counter culture game Cruelty Squad is in a marketplace where everything is trying to be different by being the same. And it does it simply by being the things it wants to be. It’s a game that I was personally describing to people as “what if Deus Ex met Dilbert 3?” It didn’t surprise me (but it did overjoy me) to find out that Dilbert 3 is one of its direct inspirations. This game kicks ass. Even if you think you’ll hate it, you should at least give it your attention. After all, what else is a work of art for?