Here’s a real doozy in the regular run of Game of the Year awards: Best Single Player. So far we’ve been focussing on some of the constituent parts of a video game, whether it’s the central story running through it, the art style, even the raw thrill of the gameplay itself, but Best Single Player is an award that wraps all of these elements together into one.
Not only that, but it’s typically a bit of a leg up toward winning the overall Game of the Year as well, though not always a guarantee once all the shouting and voting is done. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case here, when our winner is…
The Last of Us Part II is a masterpiece, one of those rare games that is simply in a league of its own. From start to finish, the game looks grim, dark, and bloody, but it is a stunningly beautiful game beneath all the gore and brutality, a testament to what Naughty Dog can extract from the PlayStation 4. Whether you’re trudging along blizzard-swept mountains, navigating the flooded streets of Seattle, or riding a horse across grassy fields, Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic America is as rich in detail as it is in disaster.
The fundamental gameplay is mechanically excellent, a serious upgrade over the relatively bare options available in the first game. Ellie and Abby can hide in the grass with a bow, set traps for enemies, blow them away with sniper fire, and so on. It’s a good thing too, as enemies will hunt you down, cutting you off and flanking to get the better of you, communicating with each other, boxing you into corners of an area. Oh, and now they’ve got dogs for you to worry about too. A wrong move in this game can get you killed almost instantly, but that just means that when you make all the right moves you feel a bit like Rambo.
Then there’s the story itself. Brilliant, a betrayal, divisive, slow – these are all terms used to describe The Last of Us 2’s storyline this year, which I take as a sign of doing something bold. Greatness can often be divisive, coming down to an individual’s opinions, but whether you like certain specific decisions Naughty Dog made or not, it’s very difficult to argue that the game doesn’t do exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a study on how revenge affects people, how it results in a cycle of violence that is difficult to escape. I personally felt every minute of it alongside Ellie and Abby. It’s an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
– Gareth C
Runner Up – Ghost of Tsushima
Despite its relatively niche historic setting and tributes to samurai cinema, Ghost of Tsushima has been on a tear since it launched earlier this year, Sony’s stable of studios still very much on a hot streak.
Even with The Last of Us Part II having dominated gaming discourse just weeks before its release, Ghost of Tsushima carved its ways in the hearts of the PlayStation fandom. Sucker Punch created a stunning open world brimming with stories and secrets as well as drop dead gorgeous vista for players to photograph. It’s one of those games you can get truly lost in without the baggage that usually comes with huge RPGs. For those who haven’t tried it yet, Ghost of Tsushima: Legends – a free online co-op mode – is well worth playing, too.
– Jim H
Runner Up – Ori and the Blind Forest
Some games strive for beauty, while others look to gameplay to hang their developer’s hat on. The third strand is storytelling, and we’ve reached a fantastic point in our hobby where games can tell meaningful stories in a way that no other medium can. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of those rare games that ties all of these three strands together, creating what is easily one of the finest games of the year.
Platformers in and of themselves, have become synonymous with a bygone era of gaming. There’s nothing retro about Will of the Wisps though, with Ori being not only an unbridled wonder to control, it’s also one of the most visually and aurally arresting releases we’ve seen in the last 12 months. Scooping up the essence of the Metroidvania, the perfectly weighted drip feed of new skills opens up access to new areas until Ori is a spirit-come-living-weapon, while the Pixar-esque storytelling will have you quietly sobbing into your controller. In a word, it’s unmissable.
– Dom L
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
- Astro’s Playroom
- Final Fantasy VII Remake
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list!