As is always the case, The Player 2 team just can’t come to any sort of consensus regarding end of year awards so it is just easier to let everyone have their say. Join us for the 2021 Player 2 Awards and find out which titles kept the team happy during the hell that was this year.
The 2021 Player 2 Awards - Biggest Surprise
Dylan Burns - Returnal
Returnal is a surprise for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I never would have thought that bullet-hell and first-person shooting would work so well together. And secondly, that something so difficult would be desirable to me. You see, I have pretty much given up on hard games, a combination of basically being over them and (mostly) not having the required time and tenacity to get good or painstakingly earn progress.
Returnal is brutal and unforgiving. Some runs will last a while, whereas others will slam you into paste just a few chambers in. I still haven’t defeated the first boss. But I want to. I want to get to the next biome. I also have no idea what is going on, or the best way to play, or if things that I spend resources on are permanent or not (I suspect not). I did get a sword that stayed with me on death, though.
This is my biggest surprise because I just didn’t expect much from it, nor did I really think I’d enjoy it. But I have found myself going back to this between other games, enjoying every moment, absorbing the Alien-esque visual design and surrendering to its strangeness.
Jess Zammit - Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One
I honestly thought we were years away from seeing a Sherlock Holmes game that would finally live up to my expectations. So when Chapter One came out, I was ready to be thoroughly whelmed. But honestly, I was more than whelmed. It was… good? I liked it? Sherlock and I solved crime together, made some fun logical deductions, fought the systemic abuse of women enabled by the patriarchy… Just the normal things you do with a good friend. It wasn’t perfect, but considering I expected to feel pretty ‘meh’ about the whole thing, I was shocked by some of the things it let me do, and the narrative choices it allowed me to make. The series made a much bigger leap than I was expecting with this title, and I’ll remember it as a fun sleeper hit of the end of 2021.
Matt Hewson - Chorus
This was a close battle for me. In the leadup to writing this, I had Guardians of the Galaxy pegged as my surprise of the year, that was until I played Chorus.
From a small studio, Chorus came out of nowhere to give players a unique space adventure that harkened back to classics like Jedi Starfighter while at the same time pushing this sort of arcade-style shooter forward.
The mix of magic and sci/fi was inspired, I loved the two main characters Nara and the sentient ship Forsa and the combat was just perfect. It had a few little problems but none of that got in the way of my enjoyment. Don’t sleep on this one folks, it is a blast.
Rob Caporetto - Retro Reissue Love
One of those things I feel we’re lacking when it comes to gaming as a medium is a healthy respect for its past. It always seems to feel like the same games on the same systems get reissued, and there are far too many which feel like they fall through the cracks.
This is why the fact we’ve seen some surprising cuts get a reissue in various forms is so darn amazing.
There’s the work being done by Blaze with the Evercade platform which has started branching out from home consoles to include arcade games, especially those from lesser-known publisher Galeco is very exciting.
Beyond that, we’ve also got reissues of games like Gleylancer and Gynoug – classic shooters from the Mega Drive era made available on modern platforms.
The love poured into Gleylancer is incredible – giving it an English localisation, and even reworking its controls to offer an option playable with modern control standards which truly mixes the experience up to make it more enjoyable for those who never grew up with these games.
I still feel the industry has a long way to go in how it respects its past, but seeing actions like this gives me some warm fuzzy feelings that we’re seeing some positive steps forward.
Stephen del Prado - Epic links with Nihon Falcom
Easily my biggest surprise of 2021 was Epic taking a chance on niche JRPG series The Legend of Heroes, announcing that four unlocalised titles would be coming to Epic Game Store across 2022 and 2023 from publisher NISA, including the next entry Trails to Reverie. Spanning close to 15 entries, the Legend of Heroes series comprises an original trilogy alongside multiple subseries’ including Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel. It’s an incredible feat of worldbuilding for a JRPG series and one that has continued to make improvements in the genre space despite the modest budgets the developer works with. Many a time over the years this series has looked dead in the water for western fans, so Epic ensuring that almost every LoH game is playable in English on some platform or another is greatly appreciated, even if it does take me almost 18 months to finish a single entry these days.
Paul James - Returnal
I knew Returnal would be good, I’ve been a student of HouseMarque’s titles for years, but I didn’t think Returnal could be this good. HouseMarque once said that “Arcade Is Dead” but as it turns out, Returnal is as brilliant as their previous works, but now with a gorgeous AAA look. The game is brutal but dangerously addictive in ways that few other games have achieved this year. If you fell in love with Hades in 2020, then Returnal might scratch the same itch in 2021
Chris Lawn - Inscryption
Coming from Daniel Mullens, I was already in the ballpark of what to expect with Inscryption. Even with such high expectations, I was still impressed by what he pulled off with the adventures of the Lucky Carder.
In a lot of ways, it wasn’t even the traditionally “surprising” parts of Inscryption that really got me. It was the fact that this game is so damn fun to play. The card mechanics are magic – the room the game gives you to totally break it leaves you feeling like an absolute genius. It’s all intended, but the way it makes you feel like you are getting one over on your captor is really something else.