Another year of ups and downs
2021 has been another tough year for many people. New COVID strains have meant that many people returned to working from home or continued online learning. One thing that has gotten many people through the tough times is the escapism that PC gaming provides – letting them head off to a new world and forget their daily troubles.
2021 probably wasn’t littered with the same number of AAA titles of the previous COVID unaffected years, but there were some big blockbuster titles nonetheless. Biomutant, Cyberpunk 2077 (OK, this was officially late 2020 – but missed our cut-off in last year’s nominations), Deathloop, Scarlet Nexus and Nioh 2 all graced our PC screens this year along with remakes of big budget titles such as Mass Effect (Legendary Edition) and Skyrim (Anniversary Edition). However, the smaller indie titles filled in the gaps nicely, with players reaping souls in Death’s Door, building their decks in Inscryption or shooting their way through the hideousness that is Cruelty Squad.
With the year almost at an end, each of the Hooked Gamers team takes a look at their favourite game of the year.
With a combination of a slick backstory that plays out over the course of the game and some great gameplay mechanics, Deathloop was my Game of the Year. Playing as Colt, it was an enjoyable experience as I explored every nook and cranny on the isle of Blackreef, slowly learning of Colt’s history as well as that of the island, with the game providing for a few twists along the way.
Despite the fact that you re-live each day (split up into four time periods) as Colt, the gameplay never becomes stale, as you learn new clues to the Visionaries daily activities. Once you have all the required information, you can then destroy them all in a single loop. The skills and weapons that you acquire throughout the game allow players to tackle each area differently on each occasion. And with the ability to play a stealthy style or go into each area guns (and Bioshock-like Slab abilities) blazing, Deathloop allows for multiple playing styles.
Featuring some stunning 1960’s era fashion and architecture, each location and time period within Blackreef offers something different from a visual and gameplay perspective, whether you are walking through the streets of Updaam or wandering through the scientific facility at the Complex. I don’t often replay games after I have reached the end credits, but Deathloop had me heading back for more.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Quinn)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been dominating the box office ever since the first Iron Man movie came out almost a decade and a half ago in 2008. Yet, despite these characters and stories dominating pop culture, this success hasn't crossed over into video games as much as one might expect. The most serious attempt came in 2020 when Crystal Dynamics released Marvel's Avengers, but the game's almost-MCU visuals and bizarre live service elements killed the game before it even came out. That being the case, most fans were hesitant when Eidos-Montréal announced Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of game that Marvel fans have always deserved. The game walks a fine line between adopting many of the titular heroes' cinematic quirks while also doing its own thing to make it clear that these Guardians aren't the ones fans have seen on the silver screen. It works well because it knows what it wants to be and doesn't try to do anything that it doesn't need to. "On-rails" single-player games tend to get dismissed in favour of more open experiences, but Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy tells a fun story that's as colourful and rowdy as a Guardians story should be.
Like other best-in-class superhero games like Marvel's Spider-Man and Batman: Arkham City, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy ultimately thrives because it understands why fans love the characters in the first place. The game looks fantastic, and the controls are tight, but it's the genuinely witty banter, narrative ethos, and way that all of the Guardians work together in combat that cement this as my favourite game of the year.
Cruelty Squad (Sam)
Do you want to play an immersive cyberpunk sim but find Deus Ex and Cyberpunk 2077 too upbeat and optimistic? Then Cruelty Squad is the game for you. Cruelty Squad presents the future as an eternal nightmare where even death does not offer an escape from the unending madness. It is lovingly rendered in the ugliest graphics this side of the Virtual Boy, with a soundtrack that alternates between the noises of a dying cat and a dial-up modem.
While Cruelty Squad may look like an exceptionally ambitious troll game, it would be a mistake to discount it and move on. Beneath the garish visuals and atrocious audio, there is a surprisingly solid FPS, with some thrilling gameplay and fascinating lore. Cruelty Squad works as a critique of modern society, a religious parable, and a meta-commentary on games themselves. Truly one of a kind.
When I was asked by my editor to write a review for a new space shooter named Chorus I really wasn't sure what to expect. I had the feeling that the space shooter genre of games these days was rather sparse with not much on offer other than maybe a lower budget Star Wars knock-off, so I was excited to try Chorus. After I fired up the new game I was quite impressed because this title has a whole lot to offer. It contains high def 4K graphics, a good story line along with great space combat sequences. There's also a rather unique way to fly a spacecraft and it all takes place in a beautifully rendered large galaxy filled with enemies!
The main character is Nara and she has a special relationship with a close companion that happens to be a sentient spaceship named Forsaken. The two communicate via telepathic mind interaction. As Nara and Forsaken become reacquainted, Nara gains space fighter pilot skills, called Rites, that can only be described as being magical in nature. The weapon systems are large and varied in nature and they consist of projectile shooting Gatling guns, lasers and missiles. Of course the different weapon systems become more advanced as progress is made. As you progress you learn which weapon is the best one to be using against obstacles such as ships armour, ship shields and the different enemy spacecraft that will be encountered along the way.
Chorus is an amazing action-packed space shooter that will be sure to please. The graphics are great even if you don't possess a top-of-the-line machine. The developers have designed the game to be played on lower end machines to enable more players to hit the skies with either a console-style controller or the keyboard with mouse combination. It all combined to make Chorus my favourite game of 2021.
Hitman 3 (Ingvi)
Hitman 3 is not a revolutionary game in any way. It follows the same formula as its predecessors and the only difference gameplay-wise is the introduction of a camera that allows you to hack electronics. Not a game-changer in any way, but a nice gadget nonetheless.
The Hitman formula of slow-paced and intellectually challenging assassination was all but perfected in the previous two outings, so what makes Hitman 3 such an outstanding game? What makes me pick it as my favourite game of 2021?
Its level design.
We often focus too much on gameplay mechanics and aesthetics and only mention level design when something is off. Hitman 3 is one of those games where the level design is so superb, it cannot be ignored. The base game's six levels are huge and offer multiple ways to successfully assassinate your targets. Again, standard Hitman stuff, but their sheer size offers almost infinite replayability, and every nook and cranny is an interesting opportunity for exploration. In most previous Hitman outings, one or two levels stand out as particularly memorable, but Hitman 3's levels are all fantastic, tight, and chock-full of content.
What really captured my fancy, though, was the mission entitled "Death in the Family", where IOI managed to create a captivating murder mystery detective game into an assassination game, like a matryoshka doll of intrigue. Posing as a detective there to investigate a possible murder, 47 can actually gather clues and solve the puzzle before turning around and completing his assignment. And it's a really good story, too. Almost makes you wish IOI branches out into narrative-driven mystery games. Almost.
It makes me tremendously excited for the upcoming 007 game they're working on.
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