The video game industry is a place of habit – themes, conventions, and hit mechanics are continually reused and re-used, and trendy genres dominate the program. But every year a handful of games try out completely new ideas or brilliantly innovate on well-established concepts – they give us moments of real magic, whether it’s the first time Ico and Yorda hold hands, or the moment when Psycho Mantis rummages through your PlayStation memory card in Metal Gear Solid.
Here are eight of those moments from 2021, featuring silent scenes of loss, smart weapons, and 200-story buildings …
The Diplemma Dilemma – Unboxing
Without cutscenes or even on-screen dialogue, Unpacking manages to tell a touching tale of the main character’s life, only through the items they take with them on a series of moves. But the most poignant moment is when she moves in with what appears to be a boyfriend, who has left little room in his odd minimalist apartment for his belongings. When the player tries to hang her high school diploma on the wall – which she has proudly done in each of her homes – you find there is no room; the only place he’ll go is under the bed. It’s such a smart, heartbreaking way of conveying an unhealthy, possibly abusive, power dynamic in a relationship – and it’s an emotional narrative device that can only be found in a video game.
The kilometer-high skyscraper – Microsoft Flight Simulator
Can a bug be called innovative? He can if he exemplifies a ridiculously ambitious gaming system. In order to recreate the entirety of planet Earth, Flight Sim developer Asobo combined data from Microsoft Bing, OpenStreetMap and weather analysis company Meteoblue and used artificial intelligence to convert this mass of information in a three-dimensional landscape. For the most part this is successful, but when there are errors in the source data – for example, when a volunteer coder for OpenStreetMap lists a building in Melbourne at 212 floors instead of 12 – then the AI must do his best, with sometimes strange results. Hence the incredible monolith piercing the game’s sky. When players stumbled upon this architectural marvel, it became an unlikely tourist destination, inspiring an army of amateur explorers to seek out other strange sites and share them on the Reddit forums. In this way, the world of Flight Simulator has become an unlikely place of emerging folklore, without author or intention. This remarkable game is innovative in its use of combined external data sources, but the real magic is in the way it handles and the fun it generates when the numbers are wrong.
A Space Odyssey – It Takes Two
In the Spaced Out section of Hazelight Studios’ co-op adventure, Cody has the option to shrink or grow, while May is given a pair of anti-gravity boots – and together they must overcome a series of space challenges. to escape from the room. . The result is a brilliant deconstruction of platforming tropes, mixing elements from Mario, Sonic, and Rayman, as players solve simultaneous puzzles that intriguingly interlock – including a large section where May hops on buttons. on one side of a ledge, to create platforms for Cody to climb onto the other. Most co-op games just require players to stand on pads at the same time to open doors, but at this level It Takes Two does some amazing things with the idea of ââcollaborative play.
The brush is mightier than the sword – Chicory
In this charming anthropomorphic adventure, you play as a dog who must use a magic brush to bring color to a monochrome kingdom, while hunting down the evil power that has drained all life from the landscape. Every little corner of the world is like a coloring book – you don’t have to spend time painting trees and cottages, but the tools are there for you if you want them, and that way creativity exists at side of narrative storytelling in a completely unique style. path. The brush itself is also smartly versatile – you paint with it, but its touch can also shrink or grow scenic objects to provide access to new areas. It’s a touch and a slider as well as an artistic tool. RPG characters usually carry swords, and the paintbrush provides a brilliant counterbalance to that – it brings life rather than taking it.
The * really * smart gun – Returnal
Housemarque’s timeloop shooter is such a smart and well-designed game, but it’s the use of Sony’s new DualSense controller that really impresses. When you unlock a secondary fire mode, you choose between the two options by pressing the left trigger halfway for one or full for the other. To make this more comfortable, the game uses adaptive trigger technology to provide a physical stop in between – you have to apply real pressure to get alt-fire mode. It’s simple, yet intuitive and pleasantly physical, making you feel like you’re using a real weapon. It’s also a very neat and immersive way to use haptic feedback, not only as a sensory novelty, but as a way to streamline controls – otherwise the alt-fire option would need a separate button assignment. Add in the use of the controller speaker for a range of effects and Returnal really draws the player into the gaming world.
Magic and Mechanics – Lost In Random
This offbeat Tim Burton-style adventure cleverly takes the idea of ââdice rolls – which are typically an abstract and systemic part of gameplay – and makes them a central, naturalistic part of the story. The main character, Even, carries with her a magical anthropomorphic dice, which he physically throws during combat to unlock a range of offensive and defensive moves. A card battle element is also used to add a tactical component, and again these cards are a tangible product in the game world. It is not only a fun way to combine different combat mechanics into one game. , but it also makes everything cohesive, magical and alive.
The Myth Machine – Wildermyth
A turn-based combat strategy game with a fantastic adventure narrative, Wildermyth is brilliant in its combination of scripted stories with procedurally generated scripts and storylines. The player takes groups of characters from their humble beginnings as budding warriors to veteran heroes and until their deaths – then the next generation takes over. The way each player gets their own different take on these fable-like tales perfectly replicates the imaginative richness of tabletop role-playing games. Wildermyth is a game about the joy of storytelling and the evolving nature of myths, and rightly so, its most wonderful and innovative moments will be different for everyone.