Video Games of 2021

It is this time of year again!

2021 wasn’t quite the bright new dawn expected after 2020, with the persistent danger of Covid-19 variant “Omicron” this winter. So while I might have caught a couple more films this year in the cinema, I’ve been reluctant to see as many as I originally planned to.

With that said, I figured another dive into the video games I experienced this year would be in order. Most, as before, weren’t released this year. Certainly, the scarcity of this generation of video game consoles, the Xbox Series X/S and the Playstation 5 haven’t exactly made it easy to play modern games, as well as the blight on computer graphics cards during the pandemic!

But still, here are my short thoughts on the video games that kept me entertained through 2021, in no particular order.

Congratulations to everyone for escaping another torrid year. Here’s hoping that 2022 is better for everyone and everything!

Control (Playstation) (Finished and Platinum)

Remedy’s Control wasn’t a game I played entirely in 2021, but I completed it this year after a very persistent playthrough. A third-person shooter that mixes X-Files grade horror ideas, brutalist architecture, and fun physics, it had me hooked from beginning to end.

Playing as Jessie, the player follows the story as she looks for her brother detained within the government building “The Oldest House”, a extra-planar structure that doesn’t quite exist in normal reality. The workers inside, normally tasked with investigating strange paranormal events across the globe (as well as the building itself) are being attacked and infected by a malicious force known as The Hiss.

Overall, it was a delightful experience playing the game. While the visuals are stark, they are very often beautifully rendered. The combat is responsive and learning a new ability opens up a toolbox of real-time combos to use in different situations. The downloadable content was decent, especially Foundation, which gave very valuable backstory that was missing from the main game. The extra content, tied in with another Remedy video game… less good. It felt quite repetitive, which admittedly the main game can suffer from at times.

Absolutely banging music though. I love some of this game’s soundtrack.

Resident Evil 2 Remake (Playstation 4) (Completed both stories with one “2nd Pass”)

Resident Evil 2 on the Nintendo 64 shook young Cinema Cocoa’s life. Playing it with friends, being scared witless, playing it alone and barely being able to tolerate the Police Station at the beginning of the game! Whispers in the school playground about “Have you met Mr. X yet??”

Suffice to say, the remake had a lot to live up to, and with the first game’s remake being released nearly twenty years ago as of this writing, this was well overdue.

Luckily, Resident Evil 2 Remake is an incredible game, and maintains the horror and the design of the original game almost flawlessly.
The Police Station is as harrowing as it was before, only now even darker and full of more zombies, as Leon and/or Claire struggle to survive and learn the truth behind Racoon City. It is almost overwhelmingly dark, but the game jumps fully into “realism”; it would be this dark.

In light of the success of “P.T“, the “playable teaser” for Playstation’s “Silent Hills” that never made it to production, Capcom ramped up the realism with their Resident Evil franchise. This game though, was still from an era of ridiculous and blockbuster ideas, but the remake balances both well enough.

The puzzles are still classic Resident Evil puzzles, the characters are similar, Ada gets more to do (always a plus) and the inventory system is still your worst enemy (in a good way). The game’s inventory is as much a puzzle as the level design itself!
The only grief I had in playing this game, was the frustration during boss battles which were rather repetitive, and how zombies don’t die to a head shot. In fact, they soak up far too much ammunition. That’s said, I did complete the game, and a “2nd Pass” as Claire, so it wasn’t impossible. Just… frustrating; the success of a headshot should be rewarded with a dead zombie, not anger!

Hitman 2 (Completed)
Hitman 2: New York (Completed, all trophies)
Hitman 2: Haven Island (Completed, all trophies)

Ahhh, Hitman 2. Like any good sequel it is superior to its predecessor in every way. The third-person stealth assassination game has near infinite replay value in its side challenges and secondary missions, unlockable equipment, Easter eggs, achievements and user created content. Not to mention Hitman 2 having all of Hitman 1‘s content!

Playing modern Hitman games, at least for getting all of the trophies, is a delight. Very seldom would I get frustrated at it, except for the odd mission where targets move in overly pedantic ways, meaning if you don’t have the foresight of how they move, you will miss your chance. But this is a very minor thing.
The game has a great sense of humour, both dark and very comic humour. A mission objective where you must pop all the inflatable alligators before escaping the mission on an inflatable alligator? Amazing, and challenging too.

It is a game I will go back to, but mastering it with persistent playing is great fun.

Hitman 1 last year. Hitman 2 this year… I wonder if Hitman 3 will be next year??

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (Playstation 4) (Completed)

I was so hyped for this game. Every news outlet and video game journalist I had heard sung its praises, even the most bitter of them.
With P.T a lost gem that I will never play, Resident Evil 7‘s clear honouring of that experience would be my P.T experience. So much hype, and I only got around to playing it this year.

What a drag for me when I found out it kinda sucked.

Resident Evil 7‘s hyper-realistic survival horror was pioneering a first person perspective for the franchise, with protagonist Ethan searching for his partner who was last heard from at the Baxter estate. Turns out, the Baxter estate is literally Hell on the bayou, as the family stop at nothing to murder him.

Taking a lot of inspiration from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Resident Evil 7 is a ghost train of cinematic scares. It is impressive to look at, and was surely very harrowing to play upon release when the hype was at its peak. It breaks the mould (pun intended) of Resident Evil games, breathing new life into them.

Unfortunately, I tired of it pretty quickly.
If I were Ethan and followed the trail of my partner into the bayou and into a boarded up, abandoned house, with her ID card discarded in the mud, I would call the police immediately. But like all slasher movies, the protagonist is stupid. Unfortunately Resident Evil 7 is a first-person game, which gives you a lot more “agency”.
The “scares” are all scripted. That is, they always happen at the same moment, you have no control over them. The enemies are stupid: you can outwit them forever by walking around invulnerable furniture. Game design is limited to instances, with an enemy stalking you until you reach the point they cannot follow, with the area often circular in design, allowing the player freedom to move until they figure out the solution.
Oh, and enemies later on in the game are tedious, unimaginative, and literally disappear if you can close a door on them. No persistent threat at all.

Silver (1999) (Steam) (Completed)

Silver was an isometric fantasy role-playing game released on SEGA Dreamcast consoles and PC. When I found it on Steam, I knew I had to replay it; mostly because the original copy we had often crashed and I wanted to see the game through to the end once more.

David, a swordsman, must rescue his wife from the evil Sorcerer known as Silver. Silver’s mysterious machinations have him kidnapping women across the land, stirring a rebellion to take him down. To defeat Silver, David needs several magical orbs, such as Fire, Water, Poison, and Time. This means traveling the lands, weird planes of existence, and joining forces with allies.

The game is terribly simple. Virtually a hack-and-slash combat system, but with a unique control scheme that allowed for different sword swings (left, right, and thrust) as well as magical powers and special attacks. But the game has merit, it is atmospheric and each area feels unique and unsettling. The voice acting is very silly but also charming; giving the game a 90s fantasy movie vibe, with bland heroes, Saturday-morning cartoon villains, and comedic sidekicks.

It isn’t likely to hold people’s attention nowadays, but I enjoyed it for the nostalgia. The game is very nebulous; without a quest log, you can often get completely lost. I’ve played it before and I still needed to consult guides reguarly!

Final Fantasy VII Remake (Playstation 4) (Completed)

I’ve written a full post about this game here.

Final Fantasy VII Remake was a justified endevour, but ultimately is a shallow, beautiful piece of cinema rather than a good example of the franchise’s engaging game design.

A remake of a beloved (by many people who aren’t me) but extremely dated game, FFVIIR is a gorgeous game. It does many things correctly in bringing characters and storylines to life for the modern age. Characters are sympathetic, likeable, charming, silly, passionate… most things that were missing from the original game. It is such a massive improvement, that playing the game just for the personality it has, the cinematography and the set pieces is a must.

The combat engine too, is exceptionally good. Game creator Square Enix should continue this combat system in the future, as it was intuitive, fast, and complex, as well as rewarding.

It is a shame then that the game itself is hardly the tactical challenge that previous (original game included) Final Fantasy games were famous for. Hit monster with sword. It dies. If it doesn’t die? Hit it more times. If it attack? Dodge. The end.
Even its Hard Mode, while definitely harder, is arbritarily hard and removes even more of the tactical edge the series is known for. Instead it is doubles-down on the “hit thing, dodge attack” design. Which is extremely boring when you have SO MANY unique gameplay mechanics literally available.
It is also an episodic title. This is only part 1 of the original game… Who knows when we will see it finished.

A strange, strange missed opportunity at a truly great game.

Untitled Goose Game (Steam)

Speaking of a “truly great game.”
Well, that’s exaggeration for effect. But Untitled Goose Game became an internet sensation in 2019, and it is reasonable to see why.

Playing as a troublesome goose, the player must terrorise a sleepy rural town to complete achievements and progress to new areas.

Waddling around as a goose probably shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is, but evading the anger of local humans, using your beak to pick up or drag objects around to fool them into doing something stupid, and even a dedicated “honk!” ability? Sign me up.
It is a simple game, but it is effectively realized. A stealth-puzzle game with a cell-shaded look, charming animation style and devious puzzles to solve, it is a recommended diversion from all the noise and bustle of other games.

Mass Effect – Legendary Edition (Playstation 4) (Completed and Platinum)

I adore Mass Effect, so this may be a biased review. I intend to write a larger review of Legendary Edition soon.

Mass Effect is a 2007 third-person, role-playing, tactical shooter, set in the far future when humanity has found itself embroiled in intergalactic politics and wars with other alien races. As Commander Shepard you must cement humanity’s place in the galaxy by tracking down a rogue special agent, who may bring doom to all life.
With a host of characters to befriend, dislike, and even romance, your own ship and crew to take to many different worlds, Mass Effect has the pioneering optimism of Star Trek, and the blockbuster antics of cinema.

It is an older game, and while the odd glitch occurs in the Legendary Edition, the remaster is an exceptional improvement over the original release! Textures are greatly improved, making this title more closely match its sequels in appearance.
I would argue Mass Effect 1 is my favourite of the four franchise games. It has a tight storyline, heaps of world-building, diverse dialogue decisions for the player, decent (albeit sometimes awkward) combat controls, and some thrilling moments throughout.

If you are a fan of sci-fi RPGs, dedicate some time to explore the galaxy and talk to people. Maybe, just maybe you will become a fan too.

Mass Effect 2 – Legendary Edition (Playstation 4) (Completed)

Mass Effect 2 and I have a history, and I won’t go into it now. But it was a bumpy start for me to fully appreciate the sequel.

Commander Shepard is back, and the player must side with a secret organization to save human colonies from extermination and learn the mystery as to why they are being targeted.
Mass Effect 2, from the outsider perspective, is head-and-shoulders above the first game, in controls, visuals, and overall quality. There are many more characters, each with unique (and great!) personalities, you have a massive ship, and the missions are intriguing and diverse in design. Your Shepard too, is challenged by the events in this game, perhaps changing their personality too.

But, it doesn’t feel as sprawling a galaxy as it did before. Missions are more claustrophobic without their vehicular sections to add size and context to them. Level designs are littered with convenient “chest-high walls”, betraying ambushes and combat encounters before they begin. The Legendary Edition is rife with glitches!

It has a darker tone than the first game, with less optimism as you are surrounded by characters who (are interesting, yes) all have grim, sad, or difficult backstories. A convict tortured as a child? A mercenary? A friend convicted by her own people? A friend on a mission of vengeance? Ouch. At least Seth Green reprises his role as your plucky pilot!

It also has one of the best DLCs for the trilogy; The Shadow Broker. Admittedly this was a fair bit of fan-service at the time, but there is a lot of action and spectacle, and harkening back to the first game.

Still, in the tapestry of the trilogy, I appreciate Mass Effect 2 now. It challenges your character, and the characters you meet are still wonderful, allowing for even more world-building in a startlingly well realized galaxy.

Just forgive all the glitches in Legendary Edition…

Mass Effect 3 – Legendary Edition (Playstation 4) (Completed)

Perhaps the most divisive of the franchise so far. Mass Effect 3 does so much which only its series could do, but a shrinking development time and pressure from publisher EA meant some corners were cut in delivering the best conclusion.
I still enjoy it, though!

The trilogy comes to an intense, startling end, as the portended Reapers arrive to destroy all life in the galaxy. Commander Shepard finds his/herself as the only hope for billions of lives.

The final act of Mass Effect is quite bittersweet. The player must travel around the galaxy, united feuding races to join a common goal and prevent extinction. The scope is vast; watching entire worlds burning and innocent lives lost, with one person chosen to fix it. Shepard is determined, but vulnerable with so much pressure on their shoulders.

The characters are back, the writing is as good as it always was. The graphics are stellar and the gameplay is fantastic; a vast improvement on the second game, while the chest-high walls exist they are more integrated into the environments now.
The music has been consistent throughout the games, but Mass Effect 3 stepped up and got Clint Mansell (composer of Requiem for a Dream, Moon, and others) to deliver poignant tracks. It doesn’t deviate too far from the other games, although the mood of the final game is often grim.

There are some missteps though. Besides the since-patched ending that the game originally shipped with, which heavily upset fans, the game has some narrative short-cuts towards the end, which feel a little too convenient for the plot. Plus, some of the through-narrative of the trilogy was ignored for player choices made.
It is also a surprisingly easy game. Mass Effect 2 was at times ridiculously difficult by comparison.

The Legendary Edition is as good as it could be. The ending is implemented, it comes with three DLCs which were all lengthy and very good: Omega, Leviathan, and Citadel.

I do love Mass Effect 3. I can forgive the ending as being dramatic, unexpected, and avant garde. I appreciate as well though that not everyone would be happy with it. Despite playing these games multiple times (at least 3 or 4 times now) I still get get emotional at times.

Phasmophobia (Steam)

What better time to play Phasmophobia than Halloween?

An indie horror cooperative game, the player is a ghost investigator who must enter haunted residences and determine what type of ghost is haunting the place. Team up with friends or go it alone, just bring the right tools for the job and try not to die.

Phasmophobia was initially rife with glitches, which actually endeared it to its audience even further. Since then, the game has seen several improvements and a solid fanbase.

I personally played this first with friends who had played it before. I enjoy horror games, mostly for the sense of dread and fear that can be generated. At first, “Phasmo” felt a little underwhelming. Playing a scary game cooperatively has some drawbacks in terms of actual scares; depending who you are with. It also depends on which ghosts you encounter, of which there are a lot!

But despite being a little underwhelmed, I opted to play it “properly” (no such thing, this game is as much a party game as it is a horror game) and play it at 1am, in the dark, alone, with headphones.

Well… I was scared s***less.

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