It is Christmas as I write this post and this year in games feels like a total blur. While making this list I had to think long and hard to make sure there wasn’t anything that was really good but I had forgotten about in the haze of seasonal depression.
But as it turns out no, I played a bunch of games this year but only two really stand out as games I think are worthy of being called my Games of the Year.
Forza Horizon 5
My history with arcade racing games dates back to my childhood, one of the first games I remember playing was the first Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit title. I played several of the following titles and to this day my most favourite NFS title remains Most Wanted.
For a while after NFS:MW I dropped off the arcade racing genre, I missed the Burnout era entirely. My reentry point into the genre came in 2016 with the release of Forza Horizon 3 developed by Playground Games. That game reminded me just how fun this genre of video games could be.
Forza Horizon 4 came out two years after 3 and it was a refinement on everything Playground had done in FH3. From the technical to the mechanical, just everything about the game felt and played better. I bought that game at launch and since 2018 I put in countless hours in the game. Most of the time I just picked a car and drove around the map listening to podcasts. The sheer joy of the driving mechanics was enough to keep me playing the game for years.
When the first announcement for Forza Horizon 5 arrived, I was extremely excited but I also had a bit of doubt at the back of my mind. Forza Horizon 4 was basically a perfect game to me. I called it one of the best games I played ever. How was Playground Games going to improve on perfection? However, Playground had continuously iterated and improved their craft since Horizon 3 and I had faith that they would find the improvements necessary to make FH5 a better game than 4.
Fast-forward to November 2021, I had preordered the Ultimate edition of the game which meant that I had access to the game a whole weekend earlier. I spent the entire weekend playing the game and what I played in those first few hours was enought to solidify FH5 as not only one of my games of the year but it also replaced FH4 as the best arcade racing game I have played.
Playground Games had done it again. They had iterated and improved. They had sanded off the remaining rough edges from FH4 and put out a game that shone bright with a sheen that was just…awesome. As I gallivanted around the game’s beautifully rendered version of Mexico in cars that were just as gorgeous I was smiling ear to ear the whole damn time.
Arcade racing games are not a saturated genre at the moment, Playground and it’s Horizon series is the only serious contender. EA has let it arcade racing franchises (NFS and Burnout) rot, only releasing half-baked and half-hearted iterations of NFS games that are just soulless husks compared to the NFS games of old.
Playground could have simply released a Horizon game that was a reskin of the fourth game and I would have enjoyed it. Where else was I going to get my fix of arcade racing? But instead, they were not content to sit on their laurels and instead chose to improve the series beyond what was strictly necessary. So well deserved props to everyone who worked on this game.
Halo is another franchise that I have history with going back to the very first game in the series. Halo: Combat Evolved was one of the first FPS games I remember playing and being absolutely wowed by it. I first saw it via way of someone playing the demo level and going “wow, this is awesome”.
For a while after that, the only Halo game I had played was 2 as that was the only other one that was released on PC and I didn’t have a Xbox until the Xbox One came out. I specifically bought a Xbox One so I could play The Halo Master Chief Collection and Halo 5: Guardians The MCC let me catch up on the history of Halo that I had missed out on and Halo 5 gave me a look into what Halo could be like in the future.
Without getting too deep into it, the Halo 5 campaign was…how do I put this politely…extremely flawed. It had some interesting ideas but the execution was poor and I came away from it feeling deflated and pessimistic about the future of Halo as a franchise.
Fast forward to the announcement of Halo Infinite. For a long time, we didn’t have much more than a title. When we finally got some details, it was revealed that Infinite was going to be a Halo game set in an open world format. I was immediately extremely skeptical. Halo has never been set in a open world and 343 Industries had never made a open world game.
All of this seemed like a project that was far too ambitious. Were we going to see another mess of a campaign like Halo 5? So I kept my expectations for this game incredibly low just so I wasn’t let down by an ambitious promise.
So when the multiplayer beta for the game launched as a free-to-play arena FPS game a month before the campaign I went into it a lot of trepidation. But I came out of it extremely pleasantly surprised. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer felt like a solid combination of old ideas borrowed from previous titles in the series and a addition of some fresh new ideas that made the gameplay feel dynamic and interesting. Finally, a damn good arena shooter.
With the multiplayer portion of the game being so good my worries about the game’s campaign were slightly lessened. However I was still concerned about the quality of the campaign. After all, Halo 5’s multiplayer was actually reasonably good but the campaign was not.
Now after having finished Infinite’s campaign, I am happy to say that while being deeply flawed in many ways, I enjoyed the campaign way more than I expected. The story was interesting, Master Chief got more characterization in this game than ever before, and while the open world aspects of the game were never more than alright, the world was small enough for them to not feel like they had overstayed their welcome.
That dang grappling hook alone made the game so much fun to play! I talk more about Halo Infinite in Episode 172 of Shades of Brown which I recommend you listen to in addition to reading this.
Kudos to everyone who worked on this game especially after the harrowing 6 year development cycle for this game. I am now very excited for what the future of Halo holds.
In this section I wanted to put some more games that I played this year and are worth at least a quick mention.
In no particular order: