This is such a hard decision because my GOTY list is essentially just indie games this year, but I think it has to go to Pyre. It’s just so damn good. I’m too much of a sleepy baby right now to articulate the way it sets you up to be as cliche or anti-cliche as you want. I’m equally too sleepy to go at length on how creating a loop of narrative benefit to mechanical downside relates to faith and religion in regards to Sandalwood’s plan and the Rites. So I’ll just say this game is the bomb, everyone should play it or at least give it a watch. The characters are fantastic, the music is amazing. Just incredible.
ooh, I haven’t played tacoma! It certainly looks pretty. Would you recommend it?
Absolutely! If I Pyre hadn’t come out this year Tacoma would be my nomination for this thread. It was a truly touching, melancholy, and ultimately hopeful experience with too many small, super well thought out touches to count, but as I said above – Pyre just hit me on a deeper level.
I’ll be the one to actually nominate Tacoma. It might be my GOTY, big or small developer.
The way you interact with the narrative, pausing and rewinding the AR scenes - reading their HUDs, picking up just about every object in the world (except a certain, erm, marital aid), and building the characters in a way I honestly found more engaging than Gone Home and ultimately, enjoyed more for it. While I could relate a lot to Gone Home, as a queer woman with a riot grrl phase and a respectable amount of 90’s nostalgia, the way I explored the space station Tacoma and existed as Amy Ferrier in a way I never felt with Katie Greenbriar made it a 10/10 game, for me.
Also, I am biased towards any game with AI Liberation as a theme.
Surprised this isn’t already nominated, but knowing that the game, especially with how much animation is in it, was originally being developed by only a three person team is mind blowing. Even with it “ballooning” to 15 people on the project (at least, that’s the number I found with some googling), it’s still a game with exceptional polish and impeccable design. It’s “simple” in what it is trying to do, sure, but I can respect the hell out of a game that takes a comparatively simple design and just executes the hell out of it, from the music to the art to the animation to the gamefeel.
Hoo boy. I don’t really know what to say about this game, other than I think it’s really special.
Everything about this game, from the structure to the visuals to the music to the writing evokes this sort of uncomfortable mood, with just a touch of empty catharsis. And there are some moments that are just so personally beautiful. It’s a game that is remarkably good at what it’s doing, and what it’s doing is something I’ve never experienced before.
It’s a really striking game in so many ways. It’s left an impression on me and I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it any time soon.
Seconded! I was about to post about this game. I have mixed feelings about Dujanah but there it is undeniably singular. I probably enjoyed other small dev games more, but I’d like to see this enter the next phase.
People keep mentioning Dujanah in all these categories which is a game I haven’t even heard of and so apparently need to check out.
For me, this year has been (uncharacteristically for the last few years) about the big games, but on the side of the smaller ones I’m gonna put forward Steamworld Dig 2 as a game that consistently surprised and delighted me.
Just a reminder, “seconded” is not a nice big bolded game nomination that we require for a vote to count
Yes, no question that Hollow Knight is the pick for me. I’ve already waxed ecstatic about this beautiful game all over this forum and elsewhere, so I won’t go on about it here. But suffice it to stay that few other small developer games made such a huge impact on me from the get-go, nor have any stuck with me for the entire year. That’s not even getting into the multiple expansions that have been released! I had no other game experience this year with more detail, care, and holistic world-building than Hollow Knight.
Universal Paperclips (PC)
This game could very well wind up being my GOTY this year.
- There has never been a better clicker game.
- There is no better use of 3-4 hours of your time this year for a single game.
- It’s freeeeeeee seriously go play it now
The Surge, by Deck13.
I don’t think I truly appretiated how bloody much I was enjoyign The Surge until it was over. Chances are you’ll see where the overarching story is heading pretty soon, but it still manages to make the discovery of small details absolutely enthralling. And it takes things in an interesting direction too, it’s different enough to throw you off balance, and make the latter parts of the game unnerving in a very unique way. It has a firm grasp of subtlety and restraint that I wasn’t expecting too. I imagine not everyone will get on with the vaguery towards the end of it’s various stories, but that will come down to personal taste I feel.
And this is all saying nothing of how it actually plays, which is also a real treat. It’s combat is firmly differentiated from the obvious inspiration, the tactical element of targeting limbs for both immediate benefit and aquiring equipment is a brilliant mechanic I never got tired of. The Rig lets you have asymettrical equipment, which is a blast to play around with, and the armor designs are brill all around. Honestly my only gripe with the game is a minor one, I feel it doesn’t particularly make full use of the set player character. Your lad’s alirght, but it doesn’t really get into the setup of him being a disabled man past the begining and the very end, in the final cutscene, which was actually pretty great as an ending. It would have been even better though if there was even any mention of his disability outside of the intro.
Don’t miss The Surge. As far as Souls inspired stuff this year goes it’s easily as good as Nioh, and it’s much more in the spirit of Fromsoft’s games than Nioh.
Seconding Doki Doki Literature Club
I’m an English teacher who strongly dislikes anime. I had very conflicted feelings going into this game. I am so glad that I played this. This game played with my emotions over and over again and I love it.
(I feel stronger about NitW, but anything that helps Doki Doki get discussed is a worthy sacrifice)
Well, a few people have replied to it, but it looks like it only has one nomination so far, so I’ll second Tacoma, which like Gone Home before it did a fantastic job of taking actual, meaningful advantage of the interactivity offered by video games and applying them to narrative structure.
Not, as many games do, by offering a branching, alterable storyline, but rather by giving the player the flexibility to impose their own perspective. Where Gone Home offered a passive approach to this, uncovering its multiple layers of story through pure environmental investigation, Tacoma adds an extra twist by allowing you to play through encapsulated moments of time, following different narrative threads at your leisure, listening in on multiple conversations and their branches in an attempt to understand just what is going on in any given scene, just what is driving different characters. It is, effectively, the ultimate game for a nosey parker. Which, conveniently, it turns out I happen to be.
It’s not quite perfect - a few particular niggles with the way Clive Siddiqi’s character is handled in particular, both in terms of stereotypes (British person as stuck up arseholes is a pretty boring trope, and padding out the Britishness by having said character keep photos of Tower Bridge and have a mother submit work to the Tate seemed a bit much), and glaring cultural oddities (referring to university as ‘college’ and having photos of ourselves as "college [American] footballers’? I mean, I know this is the future, but that seems a little far-fetched…) - but aside from that it does a great job of telling a story of the relationships between people, both in and out of a particularly stressful situation.
In the end I think I preferred Gone Home’s more personal, gentler storyline to Tacoma’s dramatic overtones, but as Gone Home is one of my personal games of forever, that’s very mild criticism. The character dramas that play out are endlessly compelling, and I love the way the game encourages players to uncover every little bit of backstory and characterisation, not through an endless trail of logs to read (though there are a few, of course - this is a sci-fi narrative, of course!), but by following and listening in on conversations, paying attention to the environment and, of course, raiding people’s lockers.
In all, between this and Prey it’s been a pretty good year for games set on space stations!
Thirding: Heat Signature
The way this game uses pauses is reminiscent of how Super Hot uses time, turning combat into a cerebral , high stakes puzzle, rather than a series of frantic encounters. Also just like Super Hot, it makes you feel approximately 150% cooler.
Hollow Knight is a clear choice for my favorite game from a small developer, and unless something really comes out of left field in the next month, it’s easily my favorite of this entire year.
The lineage of every element is almost blatant, but it so rarely feels derivative. They crafted something cohesive and pure out of a truly disparate set of influences, and I’m still in awe of how disgustingly talented Team Cherry must be to field a game like this for their collective debut.
Edit: Actual nomination in my second post, further down.
I’m seconding Universal Paperclips
It consumed me more than it consumed most, and it consumed … a lot of things. Though most would have played it as a relatively idle game, I quickly became transfixed on finding the most optimal, efficient path, which sort of fits with the game’s theme of dispensing with all excess in its single-minded focus. I’ve played through the game a dozen times by this point, trying to achieve universal paperclips with greater and greater speed and efficiency.
Made me cry, played it in two hours bc i couldn’t walk away, loved it a whole bunch.
Dujanah sounds awesome, one of those times I definately miss having a pc. Maybe a console port in the future?
Jack King-spooner is virtually a one-man team if I understand correctly. If you manage to find a way to play it, it’s probably worth checking out!