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Retrospective – Our favorite games from 2021

During the relatively short period between the days before Christmas and New Year, I devote a good deal of time to writing the 2021 retrospective. What went right on the site, what didn't, what I wanted to do better . This past year was different. I didn't have the strength to do this. “You know what, I'll save it for January, nobody's in a hurry ”.

Haste is not the exact word I wanted to use in the sentence when I spoke out loud; the correct one would be “exhaustion”. I finished the year — like many, I presume — over. I didn't want to think about games, I didn't want to write about games, I didn't want to look at games. So much so that a large part of my recess was used to catch up on audio dramas. Whoever is more intimate already knew what was going on. Our reviews slowed down, the previews I promised myself to write didn't air. I became a big disappointment to myself.

However, I don't blame it all on myself. As much as some may feel the opposite of my writings (I hope not), I am a very empathetic person. In fact, too empathetic at times; I end up becoming a sponge to soak up the pain of others and forget about my own pain. When you live in a country like ours, with the pandemic raging through the land, watching loved ones die… Well, let's say that writing about games is no longer my priority.

But there is also a hint that this is nothing new. In my 2019 retrospective “Sometimes You Forget You're Human” I had already pointed out the signs of burnout to myself. Unwillingness to write, continuous sleep, depression. So many events that were only amplified throughout 2020 and 2021.

I also don't deny that the events that shook the industry, such as the various accusations against Activision / Blizzard, the inertia of Ubisoft in changing its structure and from mid 2021 onwards, the damned NFTs, affected me deeply. Some days I would wake up and ask myself “Is it still worth booking my time for this site?”. “I don't make any money out of it; okay, i know it was never about money, but…. I still want to be part of this industry in some way.”

I wanted to say that I already have an answer to that question, but the truth is, it will take me a while to find it. My intention with the site was, and will continue to be, to focus on strategy games, independent games of different scopes. The infamous “AAA” I leave to others. We are 9 years old in 2022, a number that still hasn't entered my head (and no, there won't be a party, only when we reach 10 years old). How has the site grown so much? What exactly did I do to deserve this?

If one big part of me knows that I really want to continue it — that part that's winning the argument — the other part tells me I have to see how the industry goes through this year. If it's tiring for me to take a beating, imagine for marginalized developers, those who don't fit into what we call the “game industry” and so many other labels? I want to take the initiative to demonstrate your games here more often.

But I also have to re-evaluate once again my position, and how much I should dedicate myself to the site. I don't want another burnout, I don't want to sit in front of the PC and force myself to smile because I have another criticism to make. The problem isn't the criticism, it's the way I was overcharging myself to produce it. "No one is going to read Lucas, you missed the date, you missed the rhythm." These and so many other phrases that were repeated over and over by my brain. I ended 2021 depressed, exhausted, with an overwhelming desire to stop everything. And, for the first time in practically 10 years of professional work (either on or off the site), I gave myself this space.

My head was already less “stressed” when it came time to assemble this text, reflect on 2021 and the games that marked each period of the year. “What were my favorites? I…. I do not know".

I know of so many that I stopped playing or stopped halfway through exhaustion. Tales of Arise, Shin Megami Tensei V — and to think I bought Switch just for this game — Monster Hunter Rise, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, Northern Journey, Black Book, Escape: Memories of Steel, Treasures of the Aegean , Dungeon Encounters, Critters for Sale, Evil Tonight. The list is much longer than you might think.

There is nothing wrong with these games, on the contrary; I recommend them without a shadow of a doubt. I just didn't have the strength to play them, to deal with the feeling of losing a character, an apocalyptic plot or overly complex mechanics. Not in 2021. I'm still considering writing something about them, but I don't want to promise anything, not now this early in the year. Let's see how the days and weeks unfold and how my planning will be defined.

The more I got deeper in my awareness, in who I am, the advances I made on a personal level, the more I noticed how certain games collaborated to shape 2021 in a way that was at least peculiar. Some served as an escapism, others served as a reminder. Not all of them appeared on the site, not all of them became an article. I have increasingly been trying to separate my personal life from my website life.

“Have hobbies that you can't turn into something monetized or your 'brand.' Keep them for yourself,” they commented to me. And, as much as the site is my most authorial medium, it's just a brief snippet of who I am. Sharing my favorites from 2021 is already… more than I thought I would be able to do after a year in which I closed myself off from the world. This time there won't be “sorry if your favorite or your 'game of the year' isn't on the list”. I myself didn't limit myself to placing 10 or 15 games, but the ones that made the most impression on me.

I am forever the one who helps me on the site (This is for you Roberto!), I am grateful to all of you who accompanied me and accompany me, and I hope you will continue to accompany me this year. You guys are a big part of the reason why I write a long text like this. Of waking up in the morning and saying “What should I write about this week” . I can't always complete an article, but I keep trying.

Thanks again, and that in the 2022 retrospective I don't have to “survive” another year, but rather learn to live better. May we all learn to live better in one way or another.


sable

“Expect the best and wait for the worst” . After 2021 and Sable this is a phrase I'm going to avoid saying. For years I hid behind it to avoid dealing with personal problems, to justify my “lack of hope” in certain matters. The journey taken by Shedworks reminded me that nothing needs to be black and white.

Events happen in your life. You grow, fall apart, make mistakes, stumble, hit hundreds of times in a single day. Understand that there is not always an end point, that sometimes what you think is something scary turns out to be simple. One of those unforgettable games both for its visual appeal and the message it brings.

Heavenly Bodies

Do you know why I never publish the “best” or “favorites of the year” in December? If I did, I would have missed Heavenly Bodies. On paper it would have everything to piss me off: A game where you have to complete multiple tasks in one station with a QWOP-style move (by Bennett Foddy, better known nowadays for the creator of Getting Over it). The reality is that it was the game that made me laugh the most at the end of 2021.

It was a string of such absurd mistakes – from forgetting to lock up my astronaut even without wanting to depressurize my cabin – that he is capable of bringing lightness rather than frustration. Another good reminder that it's okay to laugh at your mistakes; everyone makes mistakes.

Golftopia

One of my favorite golf anecdotes is about the time I tried to explain the rules of the sport to someone and they ended up sleeping halfway through. That says a lot about how boring it is for many. Golftopia is anything but that.

In a year where so many management games came up with “different propositions,” MinMax Games, where you run a golf resort, was what made me feel the need and desire to make frequent changes to my designs. I created new holes to challenge my golfers who gain more experience the longer they stay at my resort, I altered the existing ones to add new challenges and quirky experiments.

I “extorted” money from my wealthy clients and still had to deal with a weed infestation. Like? With Guns and Artillery I still don't know what magic MinMax did to pair tower defense with management and golf, but it worked really well.

slipways

Even following the development of Slipways since it was a little “prototype” on Pico-8, I didn't imagine it would take over many mornings of 2021 the way it did. It's the typical “one more game” strategy game about connecting resources / raw materials between planets and making them evolve. But the clarity with which it informs me about data — which makes it a great example for anyone interested in strategy and management games — the tension of exploring uncharted regions of the galaxy, the attempt to “optimize” my lines of transport makes me pushed for more and more and more.

But it is not just a game that helped me to have “one more game”. It was also the game that held up in my darkest days of 2021. The days where I didn't want to talk but also didn't have the strength for something more complicated. Those were the days where people were exchanged for imaginary numbers. In numbers and people, the number of people killed by COVID and the pathetic efforts of governments around the world was enough.

demon turf

2021 favorite games

I still can't believe the size of the revelation that Demon Turf ( analysis ) brought me. I, a person who sucks at platform games, especially 3D, have noticed that it was less my ineptitude and more like I had created preconceptions about the genre.

Fabraz's game phases are reduced to just their “essential to function” and still maintain an incredible aesthetic. Demon Turf opened my eyes to a genre I was hesitant to play, cover, write and sound ridiculous. He helped me grow as a person and a critic. I am forever grateful for that. Maybe 2022 will be accompanied by more criticism about this genre?

High Fleet

First I fell in love with the idea of HighFleet, the concepts behind it, the idea of being “chased” while you make one last foray to capture a city. I started to play it and everything went down the drain. Was I wrong about my opinion of him? Would writing about it be more interesting than playing it?

It spent a good few months in the fridge until I was able to gather strength and focus for another try. That's when I understood your proposal and went from the theoretical to the practical field. I commanded attack groups, dodged patrols, intercepted communications, enjoyed every detail of its dense interface. It frustrated me when I lost my best attack platforms. I restarted the campaign dozens of times and applied everything I learned from my failures.

It's still a game for a few. But those willing to read a guide, be patient and, as I wrote in Heavenly Bodies, start to learn to laugh at their own mistakes – which I only managed in December when I played another HighFleet campaign – will find one of the more “games” only” of 2021.

unsighted

2021 favorite games

The first time I completed Unsighted, I told a friend: “It's a great game, great metroidvania and fantastic gameplay. I just didn't find the 'save people' system necessary. I went for the reason, I saved those who were useful to me” . It was partly a lie. I am a person who thinks largely on the side of reason. However, the reason I didn't connect with Unsighted at first is that I didn't want to suffer. I didn't want to care about the characters and know I was going to lose them. I walked away from them trying to protect myself.

It's hard for me to open up, and in a year where I had so much loss in my personal life, it was even harder to do that in a game. It was only when I let myself be vulnerable – albeit very cautiously – that I was able to appreciate Tiny Pixel's incredible work in her universe, characters and every detail of Unsighted. Another special game that will be remembered by me for years to come.

wildermyth

If Unsighted was one of the foundations for me to introduce myself to gaming in a more vulnerable way, the admirable Wildermyth of Worldwalker Games continued the process. After all, there is no way to play it without having an immense appreciation for its characters, for the narrative that it creates. For the relatively short but intense moments of battle – where everything can go right or wrong. I cried when I lost someone who had been with me for a long time in history. I suffered when I saw another character go through a mutation I didn't expect.

I still don't know what the future of Wildermyth or WorldWalker Games is, but of so many games that promised me “amazing stories”, the ones he helped me write were the ones that impacted me the most in 2021. Such a masterpiece in a matter of narrative design and tactical systems.

The Forgotten City

The debut title of Modern Storyteller took me by surprise. I had already heard of The Forgotten City ( review ), but the story of “time travel” didn't suit me well. “There's a lot of room for this to go wrong,” I told myself.

For all the little flaws it can carry from a small and inexperienced company, The Forgotten City stood out for its twists, for its characters, for the incredible work of creating a Roman city inside a cave. Along with Unsighted and Wildermyth, it reminded me of the impact of well-crafted characters and my own need to “open up” to hear what they have to say. If you're going to play it, go with your eyes closed and no guide. I guarantee it's worth it.

Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive

2021 favorite games

Make no mistake, 2021 was a year full of wargames. From small expansions, updates to big projects and unexpected releases. When I played Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive ( criticism ) I said to myself “I can't think of another game that will achieve the degree of complexity and accessibility that this one did”. No sooner said than done.

Again, VR Designs excels at representing Europe's theater of war during World War II; with its diminished scope and emphasis on logistics – which I love – Ardennes Offensive demonstrates that you don't necessarily need a 500+ page manual to make a wargame that evokes intense moments of combat and uncertainty. Another one that will spend some time in my library.

ConnectTank

2021 favorite games

I still can't believe that so few people wrote about ConnecTank in 2021. In fact, I can't accept that YummyYummyTummy's strategy/logistics/roguelite mix hasn't received the attention it deserves. It should, because it's one of the few games capable of making a competent satire about the “gig economy” that we've seen explode in recent years, both for its narrative and its mechanics.

Control a tank, play alone or with others in cooperative matches. Battle for crumbs. Cooperate and at the same time compete to keep it functional. Destroy the “enemy” who is in the same situation as you. My laughs were nervous at the sometimes obvious parallels to reality, but we can't always run away from it. Balance is everything in this life; I promise myself to have more this year.

fallow

2021 favorite games

I don't know if I'll ever be able to interpret the multiple messages that Fallow tries to convey throughout its five-hour duration. However, the ones I got resonated with me and what I went through in 2021 like few games have ever been able to. If on the one hand there were moments of joy, I went deeper into my problems of depression, my anxiety, my need to “prove” that I was better for myself. Scenes played out in different ways but still echoed in incredible ways inside my mind. It took my stomach to make it to the end, but it was worth every minute.

The post Retrospective – Our Favorite 2021 Games appeared first on Hu3br .

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