Do you enjoy logic puzzles? Have you ever solved the clues, filled in the grid then sat back and smiled as satisfaction washed over you? If so, then Return of the Obra Dinn could be the game for you.
Not for the faint of heart, Return of the Obra Dinn is a sprawling interactive logic puzzle, set on the ill-fated ship – the Obra Dinn – in the early 1800’s.
In this game you play as an insurance inspector, tasked with deducing what exactly happened on what is now a ghost ship that has recently drifted back to Falmouth. As you explore the grisly scenes that took place onboard and the tragedy unfolds before you, it is up to you to piece together who is who and what fate befell each of them. Armed with a crew roster, portrait, and a mystical stop watch, you will enter scenes of time past. Using your observational skills and wit, you will gather the clues available to identify all 60 souls.
This game is a triumph of not only detective work, but atmosphere. The old timey maritime aesthetic is complimented by nostalgic graphics – a subtly fantastic design choice simultaneously shielding players from the finer details of brutal scenes while also allowing the player to fill in the gaps of the horrors they are witnessing. The phenomenal sound design paired with the fitting sound track will haunt you in the best possible way, bringing the still scenes that you are inspecting to life. Every scene is filled to the brim with detail, things you may not notice at first but can lead to eureka moments down the line. Finally, the none linear nature of the game structure allows for fantastic storytelling, remaining full of surprises all of the way through.
If this has piqued your interest then I recommend that you don’t read any more about this game and instead jump straight in, knowing that you have a harrowing yet fascinating journey ahead. Also, when you bear in mind that this game was developed by the genius mind that is solo developer Lucas Pope, you may feel as much disbelief as I did that such a feat can be achieved by one individual.
Developer: Lucas Pope Publisher: 3909 Release date: 18th October 2018 Average play time: 6 hours Available on: PC, PlayStation (4, 5), Xbox (One, Series X/S) and Nintendo Switch
The year is almost over! Since I don’t make a habit of playing many brand new games on release I don’t often have a lot to add to the Game of the Year conversation. I do however track all of the games that I play within a given year. Since I missed so many titles throughout my life, I am very fortunate to experience many amazing games for the first time all year around. I want to celebrate that, so here are my Top 10 Games from this year!
10. AI: The Somnium Files (2019)
It was very difficult narrowing this list down. I have played so many good games this year that could make my top 10 for so many different reasons. After much back and forth, I have chosen AI: The Somnium Files as number 10. Despite not enjoying everything about it, I have to acknowledge that I loved the core mystery. Not only did the game deliver a murder mystery that kept me guessing with so many wild yet somehow plausible theories, it managed to bring it all together to a satisfying conclusion. When an ending falls flat it can often dampen my memory of the rest of the experience and that could very easily happen with a story so full of twists and turns. Thankfully, they nailed it!
If you would like to hear more about my mixed feelings on this crazy game, you can read my review here.
9. God of War (2018)
God of War felt like my first delve into the best that cinematic gaming has to offer. I felt like I was playing a blockbuster and because that is so rare to me, it was pretty damn awe-inspiring. I think the reason that this game doesn’t make it further up the list is becasue when something shines so much, the rough edges feel a little rougher. Slight issues with pacing, invisible walls and certain character arcs occasionally took me out of the experience and stopped this from being up there with my favourites. However, the fight choreography, the mythology and the characters themselves were so much fun, it was overall a fantastic experience.
8. Yes, Your Grace (2020)
I almost missed this one so I am so glad that I got to play it before it left Game Pass. The tough choices every day, the looming threat and the never knowing whether we would get through the next week created an extremely stressful and melancholic atmosphere in which I personally felt the weight of the kingdom on my shoulders. Yet somehow that is not all I remember. I remember the charm of every character being recognisable despite their pixel forms. I remember the nerves when someone returned to the palace, and the joy when they were saying thank you (and bringing me supplies). I remember the shenanigans of my daughters that elevated the game from a management sim to a life sim. It can be sad, it can be stressful, it can be buggy, but it is very worth playing.
7. Astrologaster (2019)
Having zero expectations helped as I discovered how much of a total delight Astrologaster really is. The music, the history, the choices, the relationships, the consequences – that is what the game is all about. It is all delivered with a sense of humour that couldn’t be nailed by just anyone. The passion and heart from the devs is palpable. If you are having a bad day, I couldn’t recommend this enough to get at least a few giggles. For how simple the game is moment to moment, the production value shines and makes this a stand out indie title.
6. Zero Time Dilemma (2016)
Finishing the Zero Escape series was the end of an era for me. I played the entire series for YouTube and each one was as wild as the next in their own way. It took me a while to adjust to the third and final game having such a new style, but once I got used to it I grew to love it. The janky animations added character as much as anything else, and the new flow of gameplay made a lot of sense in terms of the story. As I reflect, this game and Virtues Last Reward keep trading places for my favourite in the series, and that was very unexpected considering how much I enjoyed VLR.
If you would like to hear more of my feelings on this game, not only can you watch my series in the video above but I guested on the Left Behind Game Club podcast where we talked in a lot of depth. You can find more information about that here.
5. Elden Ring (2022)
One one hand, it almost feels wrong to put Elden Ring on this list as I am not even sure I am half way through yet. On the other hand, I HAD to put Elden Ring on this list. I have quietly enjoyed the souls games from a distance for a few years, but never thought I could actually play them. I wanted that sense of exploration but I don’t have the patience required for the combat. Then Elden Ring came along. It is like Dark Souls had a child with.. well.. me. Every change they made and feature they added feels tailored to my enjoyment and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game so far, knowing I have many more hours of joy, discovery, fear and fascination to go. This was my onlyday one gaming splurge this year and I am so glad that I did it.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2021)
I am not entirely sure why it took me so long to play Guardians of the Galaxy. I had access to it for a while but the timing never felt quite right. Now that I think back, it is like it was for a reason. In an extremely stressful time in my life, this game gave me a wonderful place of respite. It is another that felt designed for me on a few different levels. The character interactions and small details were fantastic and the levels were very fun to explore. I even enjoyed the combat which isn’t usual for me. The only hype I really heard about this game were the few who were championing it saying it is underrated, and I whole-heartedly agree. I always hope for more people to play it because I’m sure there will be many that have as much love for it as I do. It is funny, colourful, bold, emotional, and so worth your time.
3. Stray (2022)
Stray was everything I needed it to be and more. To this day I see people calling it ‘that cat game’ but that feels so reductive to me. In my review I went into detail about why I believe this game worked so well, so instead of rehashing that, I will leave a link here. What I do want to say is while this game will not be for everyone, I am so happy that there is a space for games like these to be made. Not everything has to be a blockbuster, but I do believe games need some sort of substance. This is a short game that is bursting with atmosphere, gorgeous visuals, small moments, world building, and feelings; perhaps even more impressive considering all of the characters are animals and robots.
2. Persona 5 (2016)
This game took over my life in a way that I didn’t expect. At a time when I was creating a schedule – forcing in some mandatory yet reluctant rest time – P5 became part of my evening routine. Having never played a story based JRPG before (unless Pokemon counts) I wasn’t even sure what to expect, let alone whether I would like it. But after playing the first couple of hours I was completely sold. It was a totally new experience and I was entirely on board. The further in I got, the more I loved the characters and the more excitement I got from new mechanics, new story beats or discovering new elements of the game. This game is a masterclass in style and I couldn’t get enough. I lulled in the middle which isn’t unusual for me during a long game, but overall, Persona 5 took a place in my heart. Maybe even stole it? A hugely enjoyable experience that I will remember for a long time.
1. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
The award for favourite game that I have played this year goes to – Return of the Obra Dinn! All I knew going into this game was that there might be murder mysteries and puzzles, and that I was slightly off-put by the art style. It is so interesting how thoughts like that can 180 so hard that it becomes one of your favourite game experiences to date. As soon as I felt the game in motion I knew I had it wrong. This game is art in every sense. Not only the visual aesthetic, but the music, the audio design, the pacing of every reveal, the setting, the characters, the story, the clues, the unravelling. It is crafted to perfection.
In puzzle books my favourite pages are the logic grid puzzles. I had no idea this game would basically be a huge, sprawling version of those. Except for a couple of tiny niggles, this game ‘hit’ on every level for me. My only regret is not being able to experience it for the first time again.
Looking back over my list and writing this post is pretty magical. These games are outstanding and were one of the saving graces of a tough personal year for me. And the best part? I know there are 1000s more where they came from, just waiting to give more fantastic, wild, emotional, challenging, thoughtful, hilarious, *insert all other adjectives here* experiences, and the library just grows and grows.
For anyone else like me – people who want to experience everything there is, Indie and AAA alike – we will never be able to play all of the games that we would like to before we die. There literally aren’t enough hours. On one hand, that could be a reason to be super selective. On the other, how many games have clicked with you on a level that you never expected or could not have predicted? For me, that number is pretty high. The conclusion – be adventurous. Go with your gut. Listen to others, but not too closely. Curious about something? Give it a go! Not really feeling anything? Try absolutely anything! Games are more accessible than they have ever been, what better way to celebrate that then.. well.. playing games.
If you would like to see more of what I played this year, I have a Twitter thread with initial thoughts of every game I played here. I also have a more concise visual list on GGApp that you can view here.