Feel. An enigma when it comes to talking about games. We often struggle for the right language to describe it and rely on overused terms like ‘visceral’ and ‘clunky’, but it’s such an important part of the overall experience that it’d be irresponsible to not try to talk about it. When you grip a controller or place your hands on a keyboard, you’re getting a sense for how a game feels. How do we describe this sensation, and how do we quantify it?
The truth is, when a game feels good, you just know it. A game’s feel is the sum of several things, often barely noticed. It might be controls that feel tight and responsive, a button layout that feels natural, a difficulty curve that feels satisfying, animations and sounds that make your actions feel weighty and real, or a wide range of settings you can adjust that allow you to make the game feel just right for you.
Or perhaps it’s something greater - games that feel great can be the most immersive or captivating. The world melts away. We forget about ourselves, and are transported to a place where we can be who we want to be. Powerful, agile, intelligent, caring, with the agency to affect the world around us. The game becomes an extension of ourselves. The impact we have, and how that impact feels, are core to an experience that only games can deliver.
With all of that in mind, what were the games that had your favorite feel? And even though it may be difficult to explain, what is it about them that makes them feel so good?
Big fan of Hades as a game where the combat felt right this year.
Also loved the smoothness of zooming around in Ori and the Will of the Wisps while using all sorts of different travel techniques! Has some real Spider-Man vibes when you get into it.
Edit: Oh, and special shoutout to Captain Tsubasa! Loved the feel of playing not just regular soccer, but “anime soccer”.
My genuine answer here is the Devil May Cry V Vergil DLC. He plays like he does in 4 but smoother and with more toys to play with. Just infinitely satisfying to do literally anything in that game, and he’s no exception. Landing a quadruple judgement cut is the absolute best feeling.
Otherwise, Hades is pretty good, and when Doomy Ternal works it can feel as good as Doom 2016, but it really tries it’s best to not be as good as it’s predecessor.
let me tell you about the moment that made me fall well and truly in love with ULTRAKILL.
So ULTRAKILL has a pistol weapon with an alt fire that flicks up a coin, if you shoot that coin it deflects to the nearest enemy, exploding on contact, killing damn near any enemy in the game.
So picture me in an arena, I’m backing up from the two streetcleaners in front of me - a particularly hardy enemy type in the game, they’ve got flamethrowers that’ll make quick work of you if you’re up close for too long - I pull out my pistol and flick a coin, it deflects and explodes, killing the streetcleaner in front of me.
but not only that
The explosion also propels me and the other streetcleaner that was bearing down on me sky high. With both of us suspended in the air, there was no better time to make my shot.
And so the streetcleaner fell out of the sky ever so gracelessly, hitting the floor, completely bereft of life.
this all happened within a mere second, ULTRAKILL’s marketing pitching it as Devil May Quake is no joke at all, it’s full of fun tools entirely built to be mixed and exploited in endlessly clever ways, it’s not like a lot of other shooters where the power fantasy is simply in the shooting feeling good (though it sure fucking feels fantastic here), but in making you feel clever for chaining moves in a stylish way, much like the Devil May Crys of the world.
I genuinely think ULTRAKILL is a new benchmark for shooters, and in a year where the sequel to DOOM '16 struggled to balance systems that rewarded creativity and resourcefulness, and enemies designed to encourage specific solutions, ULTRAKILL shows how much both DOOM '16 and especially Eternal are pulled down by the weight of AAA expectations, design and meta systems. It is push forward combat - as id software loves to call it - without the cruft.
Even though I eventually fell out with it due to exhaustion, Hades has to get the best game feel vote from me here. Other than the way poison works, almost every other interaction feels really good.
I own ULTRAKILL, and I can see that, theoretically, it allows all of these things (and I bought it specifically to support the developer developing this particular thing, despite my next few sentences). However: rather like Doom 2016, in reality, I just found it felt… like I would never be able to do any of the cool things in it. [Or rather: that to actually “feel good”, you also need a base level of ability which I simply don’t have - there’s no point in trying to chain together moves when you can’t land them in the first place.] Otherwise, yes, I’d be nominating it too.
My pick for favorite game feel would have to be Wildfire! I love the feeling in immersive sims of making some wild plan involving the interlocking systems, and then executing it without a hitch. In 3D imm sims that feeling is rare and takes mastery over many finicky systems. Wildfire is a side scrolling imm sim, so there are far fewer variables involved, and you can reach that mastery sooner and with better consistency. By the end of that game you’re doing wild stuff ALL THE TIME, and it feels GREAT!
Ori 2’s movement has to be one of the best feeling things of the year in my book. When you get the hang of the game’s mechanics and are able to weave together your jumps, dashes, sand-swimming etc through those long platforming segments, the escape sequences and the ghost races it just sings.
Hades is an obvious choice too, and Half Life Alyx is up there for me as well. Flicking an object into the air and catching it with the gravity gloves was as satisfying and cool at the very end of that game as it was at the beginning. Just never got old.
Sliding down hills in Apex feels amazing and every first person game needs that.
Hades is great, but Mario 64 from the 3d All Stars Collection was the best for me. Trying to get the 100 coin star on Tick Tock Clock without the clock moving requires some precise side jump/wall jumps, and it just feels so good on the Switch Pro Controller. I was shocked by how well the feel of that game holds up decades later.
Should this count for 2020? I’d say a hard MAYBE, and if you don’t count it then that’s fine
Oh this reminds me that I can go back and play Sunshine without joy-con drift!
Hm, it occurs to me I actually didn’t play a lot of new games in 2020.
Anyway, Hades is a shoo-in for game feel. The controls are perfectly responsive, the lock-on is exactly the right amount of generous, each weapon is distinct but equally viable, the enemies have exactly as much health as it feels like they “should”, the dash travels the right distance and has the right number of i-frames. And that extends to the boons, keepsakes, and mirror upgrades as well, I don’t think I’ve encountered any of them yet that doesn’t seem to have a place in some build.
After that, I have to shout out Project Wingman. I can’t compare it to Ace Combat, which I haven’t played, but standing on its own it’s a fast and brutal dogfighting game that is extremely satisfying. There’s nothing like jumping into a target rich environment and doing some Top Gun shit while everybody is spamming missiles.
It’s a rare day when I get to talk about “feel” in a more literal sense in video games, but I have to tip my hat to Insomniac for nailing the haptics in Miles Morales on PS5. You can actually “feel” the web pull taut as you hit the highest gravitational pull of your swing. It’s very subtle but it’s a remarkable achievement to improve on some of the best traversal in video games.
My comment on hades is I think it plays (in terms of feel) identically to diablo 3, which is just smooth as hell. It is a triumph for a team of supergiant’s size to match the feel of a AAA, marquis hack and slash game. In both games, once you’ve gotten significantly powerful, there’s just a way you slice through enemies like they’re paper, and you just feel so fast, so nimble and canny. It’s incredible.
Don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said, but still wanna give a nod to Hades.
Ghostrunner is another standout for me. I mentioned the other day that I’m a sucker for a variety of traversal mechanics in games and Ghostrunner has it in spades. That combined with the 1-hit-kill-for-you-and-enemies rule, means that you’re constantly plotting your route through an area, thinking about the order you’ll be taking out enemies, and chaining togethers jumps, wallruns, air dashes, grappling hooks swings, and of course, sword slashes together in a Hotline Miami meets Mirror’s Edge mashup I didn’t know I wanted.
Because vehemently did say that we’re allowed to talk about games we played this year even if they didn’t release this year () I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I didn’t shoutout my boy Titanfall 2. Yes I know people have been talking about how good and slept on a game it is for years now, but I finally decided to check it out over the summer, and y’all…I love how this game feels so much I’ve been playing Apex Legends pretty regularly since it launched and a good part of that is because of how satisfying it feels (again, those traversal mechanics tho). I thought Titanfall 2 would feel pretty similar and to an extent it does, but dang, that game’s wallrunning and grappling hook (especially in multiplayer) adds so much. It should almost be a crime that it’s not present in Apex.
Finally, my unexpected favorite game feel has got to go to Astro’s Playroom. At the risk of sound cliche, the adaptive triggers + haptic feedback + the sound design all come together to produce something great that you truly have to feel to believe. I could sit hear and talk about the tink tink sound of Astro’s feet on ice, or how a constant gust of strong wind legitimately made me shift my body because it felt like my controller was going to be blown out of my hands, but like VR, words don’t do justice here, it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
EDIT: Crap, how did I also forget Skater XL? Always love a good skateboarding game, and Skater XL’s take on skateboarding controls is just unorthodox enough that it makes landing anything feel satisfying.
I almost did this, too, but I didn’t play that much of it this year… It’s absolutely still the fucking coolest FPS out there, though.
The much slept-on art of rally deserves a shoutout here. A finely tuned impressionistic rally racer with an incredible driving model that feels equal parts sim racer and RC car fantasy, it’s my favorite racing game to come out this year. The game knows when to impart a sense of weight, and alternatively weightlessness at the perfect moments to put you at the edge of control at all times. Pretty soon, you’re drifting around curves and modulating speed like the car is an extension of you. Do not miss out on this game!
I would write about Rain World here, but vehemently made an incredibly good write up about how this game feels earlier this year.
Otherwise for 2020 games as @just_benj mentioned, Ghostrunner not only plays incredibly well, but has such a tight rhythm of play that makes it fun even when you’re failing over and over
I had plenty of fun with plenty of games, but let’s be honest, it’s Hades.