The prestigious Game Awards have announced their 2020 nominees for Game of the Year and the selection is…mixed. It was a paltry year for games what with that thing that happened, not to mention the other things that happened, in addition to everyone having to stay indoors and forgetting how to speak to other people outside of angry comments online, so you can see how the three major game companies maybe coasted a little this year as far as new and interesting games went.
We’ve talked about all the games nominated right here at 25YL Gaming, some multiple times, except for one. The game I’m currently obsessed with. You know what it is. You saw the headline, you saw the picture, you know why we’re here. Let’s go to Hell.
Johnny Malloy – Hades (Switch)
Just as I was about to become utterly fatigued by roguelike games, along comes Hades, emerging out of a beautiful pool of blood, and spoiling me with gorgeous animation, fluid combat, impressive voice acting, and an ever evolving story so deep and surprising, I often welcomed sweet death, knowing it would simply send me back home to my friends, my beloved dog Cerberus, and my sniping father, Lord Hades of the Underworld, forever dealing with the infernal bureaucracy of running the place.
Each time the Prince delves back into the Underworld, its ever-shifting chambers realign to frustrate his attempts to maybe map it out.
– the mysterious old Narrator
Hades, from the indie developer Supergiant Games, is about Zagreus, the dissatisfied and immortal son of the dark lord, who sets out to escape the underworld and his sneering, belittling father. The game plays out in an isometric view not unlike Diablo or Supergiant Games’ own Transistor.
The combat consists of primary, special, and magic attacks, being of both the short and long range variety depending on which weapon you choose. Your mission is simple: progress through each room by defeating all the enemies.
Each run begins in Tartarus with you being given a boost from one of the Olympians, your allies in the game. You progress from room to room, collecting items, coins, and power ups you can use to improve your chances once you are defeated and sent back home to dad. And you will die. A lot. It’s a roguelike, that’s kind of their thing. Nobody beats Spelunky 2 right out of the gate, and you’re not escaping Hell that easily. But here’s where the game hooked me. Death is only the beginning.
Every trip home means another chance to catch up with some (or all, it’s going to be all) of your favorite characters, another stop by the House Contractor to purchase various upgrades to the underworld. Not only is the dialogue unique and original each time you return, but your relationships with denizens of the House of Hades can grow and evolve at whatever pace you choose.
During your runs through the Underworld, you will come across bottles of a sweet nectar. Upon returning to The House of Hades, you can gift your friends (and even dear old dad) with bottles of Ambrosia. This will build a relationship, forming a bond with them. They will give you gifts in exchange. The whole enterprise is a win-win for everyone and I fully support it.
I have a weird hang up when it comes to games—I need the tone to be established real quick. I need to know what kind of an experience I’m in for, so that I can switch gears and get locked in. Hades nails it right from the start. Even before I realized the game was deeper than it looks, I felt like I was in a fully realized world from the very beginning. This is a game that is confident in its storytelling ability.
When you realize that your time in the House of Hades is not meant to be rushed through, you settle into a new mentality. You’re not just playing a Rogue Legacy type of game that sends you back to starting positions—to quickly upgrade a thing or two—before you immediately fire right back into battle. You want to talk to people. And I don’t mean you hit the button to talk and then mash another button to rush through the dialogue. You actually listen to what the other person has to say, which is like 2020 on Ultra Hard Mode. What the characters have to say is the reward. They impart wisdom. They offer suggestions. They empathize, they joke, they sometimes go off on a tangent, or don’t know what to say, like the painfully shy Dusa.
Soon enough, side quests emerge, previously locked rooms open up, the game even goes on narrative diversions and seamlessly integrates plot points using dream sequences. The game continuously breaks the grindy, often unrewarding loop of roguelike games and becomes something deeper. That itch to immediately play “one more game” upon death, is enhanced by the fact you know that you’ll get to first spend some quality time at home before heading back out into the fray.
And lastly, just like any good roguelike, the ending is only the beginning.
Christopher Blackmore – Serious Sam Collection (PS4)
After patiently waiting in the wings, console gamers have finally been gifted with Serious Sam Collection, which I immediately needed to buy. The collection features the first three games, given an HD makeover, and some extra content thrown in to boot. It’s quite well priced for what you get, and I’ve been loving it so far.
To me, Serious Sam, is Doom with a sense of quirky humor. Sam Stone, the cookie-cut-out badass protagonist doesn’t offer much in terms of memorable style; choosing to live and hide within the shadow of more prominent characters like Duke Nukem. But he suffices within a world that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously—despite the title.
Immediately after starting to play, I’m reminded of its sheer difficulty. Having only scratched the surface of the first game, I’m repeatedly cut down to within an inch of my life by the game’s barrage of enemy combat encounters. Often, my finger doesn’t leave the firing trigger. You can’t catch a break, and although it can be thrilling to dispatch seemingly hundreds of bizarre monsters, it’s exhausting trying to dodge everything. But my goodness does it feel satisfying blowing away suicidal maniacs with the games double-barreled shotgun, watching their HD gibs spew all over the floor, walls and sand of the games numerous environments.
One of my favourite things about the Sam series is its exploration incentive. The levels are absolutely gigantic, and for no good reason other than one of the corners might contain a secret. Some levels can contain upwards of 12 secrets, and it’s more often than not a joy to discover a secret way off in the distance. The game even jokes with its own secrets mechanic, never failing to capitalize on its meta humour.
I can’t wait to get further along in the collection. It’s not a perfect game by any means and does suffer from repetition especially when fighting monsters in huge, literal sand boxes. But it’s definitely an era of the first person shooter that is crying to be returned to in a grand way. I’ve not played the fourth one, so maybe they’ll add that to the collection sometime in the future.
Lor Gislason – Yuppie Psycho: Executive Edition (Switch)
I’m a sucker for having indie horror games on my Nintendo Switch, so when Yuppie Psycho: Executive Edition dropped at the end of October, I knew I had to have it. I’d heard of the game, since it originally released in 2019, but never tried it myself. The Executive Edition adds a couple of extra hours of gameplay and a few more endings and that piqued my interest as well. Basically it’s a pixel adventure game exploring a cursed office building. It’s your first day on the job and your task is to kill The Witch!
The thing that impressed me the most about Yuppie is the creativity. The human/office-supplies enemies were simple and effective designs. I rounded a corner once and caught one of them moving just barely into my vision, a mass of lumpy flesh vaguely resembling a human-spider hybrid and did the “nope nopeeee” as I ran away.
Then there’s hidden VHS tapes around the game that are actual filmed clips, like snuff films. Some of them were extremely creepy and well done, I wasn’t expecting that at all. Anime style cutscenes with great facial expressions added some flair during important moments. Puzzles felt just the right amount of difficult, mostly relying on observation and memory. I loved exploring each floor, from the normal(ish) offices to a whole-ass cemetery. The writing was quite enjoyable as well, poking fun at corporate settings and the ridiculousness of the situation. One of the few games recently where I actively sought out all the endings, wanting to know and see everything I could.
Sean Parker – Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5)
I got my PS5 last week and immediately dove into Spider-Man: Miles Morales. If you’re unsure what could possibly be new compared to Insomniac’s Spider-Man, the answer is kind of a lot. This game acts as a companion game to the 2018 monster hit, so all of those web slinging skills you learned in the original game come back in a more familiar tutorial setting, however Miles has some new unique abilities that we didn’t have as Peter Parker.
Miles finds himself infused with bioenergy which results in extremely fun new ways to web swing and fight enemies. His arsenal includes a cloaking ability which I loved using to takedown enemies when I was surrounded in the middle of a fight, as well as fantastic energy-based punch and dash takedowns that visually show off the power of the 4k processing on the PlayStation 5. I’m currently on the back half of the game, so it is very short, maybe about 20 hours to the original’s 40 plus—even shorter if you’re not looking to find every collectible or secret to attempt a platinum trophy run—but just want a simple playthrough.
The plot of Miles Morales picks up right where the last game left off. Peter and MJ decide to take a vacation, leaving Miles as the lone Spider-Man protecting New York. Of course, things go awry as they always do, and Miles stumbles upon the criminal organization The Underground, who have taken over for Martin Li’s gang as the primary crime organization of the game and they, along with their boss The Tinkerer, are looking to overthrow the Roxxon energy corporation. The plot itself here is a bit on the thin side, but I’m not at the end yet so I can’t judge that fully. The visuals throughout the game have been (obviously) spectacular, one specific scene that was partially shown off in the teaser trailers for the PS5 has Miles swinging his way onto the Brooklyn Bridge to stop The Underground. As Miles fights to save civilians as the bridge begins breaking apart, my heart was jumping, I was fully immersed—the sequence was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Seeing it in the trailer does nothing for the breathtaking magnitude of playing the sequence in the game. After finishing it I texted a friend, who is also playing the game, and we had to talk about it.
Apart from the game itself, one of the greatest highlights on the technical side of the gameplay itself is the PS5s utilization of the Solid State Drive (SSD), which make the cut scenes and gameplay nearly seamless as well as bring about wonderful load times between booting up the game or fast traveling. I have suffered a couple of glitches in the game so far, one was particularly frustrating as Miles decided he didn’t want to move anymore and a full restart was necessary, but for the most part the gameplay in Spider-Man: Miles Morales has been solid and I think any fans of the 2018 game are going to enjoy this one as well. I have loved the world of Insomniac’s Spider-Man since that game released, I invested in the DLCs, and was sold on Miles Morales the minute the game was announced, and given the consistent nature of Insomniac’s product I will likely be ready for however many future Spider-Man games Insomniac plans to make. If you’re a fan of the original’s combat, stealth, and open world mechanics, similarly in league with Warner Brothers’ Batman: Arkham games, then you know this isn’t new territory for gaming, it just continues to be a whole lot of fun.
Cody Schafer – Skyrim (PC)
I avoided Skyrim back when it first released because I knew it would just be a time vacuum, and back then I had ambitions. I knew that everything about the world of The Elder Scrolls was like a finely tuned trap waiting to ensnare me. After I finished college, I tried diving back in but quickly found myself lost among the choices offered by mods.
Then 2020 happened. The Skyrim modding community has been busier than ever this year, making it the perfect time for people like me, who put this game off until some undefined space of time that didn’t adhere to normal rules. I’ve now spent an ungodly amount of time downloading and installing the best texture and lighting overhauls my PC can handle trying out different gameplay tweaks. Now it’s time to start diving into some quests.
I highly recommend starting off with Clockwork. I downloaded it for my spooky playthrough last month but didn’t actually get around to it until later, and while it definitely isn’t shy with its horror elements it turned out to be much more than that. Mild spoilers from here on; the player begins by heading through a haunted mineshaft that leads through an abandoned trade route. After surviving the horror of the cave, we emerge to find a lost mansion hidden in the mountains and home to a pair of sentient mechanical androids. The story is a heavy dive into some of the best parts of Elder Scrolls lore and wonderfully fits into the Skyrim narrative.
The quest itself can get a bit tedious, the bulk of which is a fetch quest in a massive underground Dwemer ruin populated by homicidal robots eerily sputtering a nonsense mix of nihilist philosophy and David Bowie lyrics (and yes, like I said, all of this is entirely lore-friendly). In fact, one of the most immersion breaking experiences in a typical Skyrim quest mod is sub-par voice acting or even just recording quality, so the mod author’s decision to rely on effects-laden mechanical voices is actually a pretty clever way to avoid that. The entire production is full of next-level creative choices like this, including the beautiful unique textures made for the Clockwork mansion itself, which is unlocked as a player home once the quest is complete. It’s so nice, in fact, that other modders went ahead and remade the fancier interiors of Skyrim’s capital Solitude with the interior textures made for Clockwork.
The quest can be completed in just a few hours, but I could have easily spent fifteen or twenty hours within this mod alone considering how much I ended up just wandering around exploring the mansion and piecing together the story, and how it connects to the larger world of Tamriel. Although Clockwork has earned plenty of praise over the years, it doesn’t always get included in lists of the best quest mods that are much larger in scale, or explore bigger areas. But in terms of a total package, there is no better example of the unique kind of game experience Skyrim modding has to offer.