When I was asked to think of the top games that I enjoyed or held some kind of meaning to me I thought to myself, “Well that will be easy.” It was not. My first draft list of games was huge. I realised I needed to get much more specific with the list in order to keep it in scope, so I chose eight games whose directors and teams brought me insight and joy – and one space dogfight trading sim that I became weirdly obsessed with.
1. Assassin’s Creed Origins
I have not been able to finish this game but it ranks high on my to-do list when I get time after release. From what I have been able to play, it really confirms what I already knew coming in – Ashraf Ismail is a damn fine director. Black Flag is currently my favorite AC game in the series. I am certain that after I finish everything in Origins, Black Flag will be unseated as my favourite.
2. Horizon: Zero Dawn
What can I say about the game that has not already been said? The crazy talented devs at Guerrilla created a freaking masterpiece here. The excellent writing drew me in and the incredible visuals melted my eyeballs. I loved that the perfectly tuned difficulty curve that had me pushing against the very ceiling of my abilities throughout the entire experience to ensure things were always engaging.
This is another game that I have not been able to get a ton of time with, but the premise and execution are just so stunning that I had to put it on the list. Right when my pragmatic side shows up to chase me down and kill me over and over again, I knew this was something special. It all felt a little too real to my own experiences of fighting my doubt and pragmatism. This game made me stop and think about how much story was being told simply through the game mechanics. It is brilliant. It is hard. Like stupid hard. I am nearly certain I will never finish it but there is this little voice inside of me, the voice of unbridled hope, which keeps telling me not to give up.
4. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
I still cannot believe this game was able to get made. I am slowly working my way through Henry’s story and loving it. I really love wandering the countryside and exploring their recreation of Bohemia. The dev team’s commitment to realism makes the whole experience so different from many games today and that makes it feel like something fresh and new. The Warhorse team took on an ambitious challenge and created something very special in the end.
5. The Evil Within
What a weird and wonderful romp into the dark and twisted mind of Shinji Mikami. He is a master of the craft and I am forever humbled by his unique vision. Resident Evil 4 still remains an incredibly transformative influence on me as a director – inspiring me during the production of God of War many times. The Evil Within manages to carve out its own identity and create a tense and engaging experience that kept me pushing all the way until the end. Oh, and The Evil Within 2 is awesome as well. So there’s no shortage of evil goodness.
6. Elite Dangerous
Huh? A space trading and dogfight simulator? Yeah, this one surprised me. So much so that I bought a PS4 flight stick and logged way too many hours late into the night on this thing. I even went so far as to watching countless YouTube videos that helped breakdown the best places to find rare materials and ships so I could save up for my fully outfitted Asp to go exploring the amazing universe Frontier created like the Bounty Hunter I always knew I was. Until now, no one really recognised my Bounty Hunter-ness. They still don’t, but at least I have an outlet to get that fix.
7. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
I have only recently been able to carve out some time to play this game and all I can say is, “Wow!” The voice acting is sublime. Melina Juergen’s portrayal of Senua is almost overwhelming in how raw and real it is. The focused vision and crisp writing from Tameem Antoniades results in an emotional and frenetic game that explores some hefty subject matter with incredible maturity. The fact that they did this with a very small team makes this game an important achievement in the industry. I cannot wait to see what the folks at Ninja Theory are cooking up next. Oh, and Enslaved was bloody brilliant!
8. The Last of Us: Remastered
I think Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann is a phenomenal writer and thoughtful director who continues to surprise and inspire me with his work. This game is another great example that nuanced and emotionally diverse stories make great games even better. I had such a strong connection to why I was in this world that what I was doing in the moment-to-moment gameplay always felt right. From the deliberate and spot-on mechanics, to the perfect casting (Ashley Johnson is amazing!!!) to the unmatched feeling of truly being a part of this world – this game nails it all. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the next chapter in Ellie and Joel’s adventure!