This is a list of games I wished I liked more than I did, including 8 that are sorted alphabetically and the top two; what this is not, is a list of bad games or worst games of the year, or games that absolutely have nothing good or worthwhile about them. I liked some of these games, and I didn’t like some others, but the reality is I really liked most of them; I just wish that I liked them more than I did, because an element(s) was bugging me, or was not good enough, or whatever other reason. Hopefully, this will be a list for you to find some hidden gems or games that appeal to you even with their caveats, and not a list of games to avoid.
- Away: An unexpected journey
Away is one of those games that just sells itself with how it looks: If you’re into the paper-craft anime look it has, then you just have to try it. Obviously, I was and I did try it but it never clicked with me; maybe it was the technical problems, or the uninspired gameplay and progression. Mostly, I just had a difficult time to care about anything in the game; I did not expect a captivating story or the gameplay to rival other hallmark games in the rogue-lite/like genre, but I was expecting something that felt decent and, most importantly, novel in an oversaturated genre. Had the gameplay been decent or had it had a somewhat different hook than other games, then maybe I would have stuck with it, but “possessing” other characters was the same as acquiring new gear (with the exception of them having their own health bars, which doesn’t really change the gameplay) and the paper-craft look makes it pretty difficult to gage distance from hostiles, so I often got frustratingly defeated by enemies too close or too far away from me.
- Crackdown 3
I liked Crackdown 3 and it’s certainly a decent game, especially when you consider that most people will (and should) play it through their Game Pass subscription. But I wanted more from it! It never felt over the top like it should and the world that should feel like a big playground for you to create chaos in, just felt stale and recycled; I could create chaos, but I never felt like I wanted to. There were so many boring side activities and so much of the “main” content was uninteresting and repetitive that it just made a game where you play as real life superhero Terry Crews feel generic. It’s a good game to spent a dozen hours with and go on a rampage, but beyond that it is immediately forgettable and disposable; I’ve heard that the multiplayer is not any better despite some of the cloud technology being present and destructibility being somewhat impressive, but I never actually cared enough about the gameplay to want to experience that in a multiplayer setting.
- Creature in the Well
Another game I actually enjoyed for the most part, but had problems with keeping my interest, Creature in the Well is a very smart blend of bullet hell and pinball, alongside a unique art style. It is surprisingly well balanced in terms of offering challenge that never stirs into frustration and offering enough progression to keep me interested; but then, it just didn’t do enough. After a couple of hours, I started feeling like I had seen all that was available (which is probably not true) and in this era of gaming, when something feels stale or stagnant there are dozens of games in your backlog or out that week to get into, that makes it hard to stick with a game that feels like it has no more to show you. However, it is a game I would like to go back to eventually and it is a game that I would be excited to see the sequel.
- Rage 2
I had a very strong opinion on Rage 2 when it came out. Honestly, it was very weird to see what I had written on it, because at this moment, I struggle to remember what was Rage 2 all about. Like all games on this list, it’s not a bad game, but it is a game that has serious issues that keep it from being good. More than any other game on this list, Rage 2 proves what I’ve said in the intro of this article that this is not a list of bad games, but a list of games that I could see a far better experience for me, but never got it. Rage 2 has everything in place: A great foundation in terms of combat and open world design, a collaboration between two great studios, a setting that is open enough for some creativity to flow through and deliver soothing new and exciting. But it never gets there, because the two studios’ ideas never really mixed together, because it was too safe and familiar, because the challenge was poorly balanced; in the end, it is a great game made mediocre by burying itself underneath a bad story and an unwillingness to compromise.
- Sea of solitude
I love a game that has ambitious goals for itself – whether those goals are for the narrative or the gameplay experience, that ambitiousness (whether fulfilled or not) usually leads to something interesting at the very least. Sea of solitude certainly does have ambitious goals, but nothing it did managed to click with me; the simplistic gameplay does not lead to getting faster to the story (like for example to the moon) and also is not fun enough to be good in its own terms. Moreover, the story is a deeply personal tale of sorrow, grief, and depression, but that does not mean it’s any good or relatable; it’s not that the story is not deep enough or poorly written as a story, but there’s nothing there to latch on to as something you haven’t seen before or something worthy of investment. As such, there’s nothing really wrong with the game; it has an interesting visual style, it has more gameplay elements than most narrative-focused games, and the story is not terrible in any capacity, however it’s mostly because of all those reasons I’m never going back to Sea of solitude or will not understand how can someone find this experience great; there are so many better examples of this type of game, this type of experience, those gameplay and story elements, and even the mixture of all those elements in something that’s more novel and worthwhile, that make this game unnecessary.
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Similarly to Rage 2, I had so many things to say on Wolfenstein when it came out, that now at the end of the year it’s uncanny to me how many of those things I still remember and still want to talk about. Wolfenstein is the prime example of how I felt about a lot of releases this year, which is that I could easily change the name of this list to “Games I liked enough of to not get disappointed by them, but were not nearly as good as they should have been” but I’m already terrible at naming things and this name would have been on a different level of bad! I still stand by Youngblood for improving the core gameplay in many subtle spots, for having a go at delivering a narrative that can create a path forward after the inevitable roadblock Wolfenstein 3 is going to hit, for trying to introduce new characters to explore, and a new way to play Wolfenstein. But, as time went on and now looking back at it, I seriously hope that the team takes what worked and move on from everything else; the “games as a service” model made the game painful to go through, the procedurally generated side content made the game feel pointless, the co-op buddy is single player was either too OP (at least it was for me) or an annoyance (for most other players), and the actual story delivered was such a convenient and disappointing narrative that almost makes the stuff they do for the future of the franchise not worthwhile. Were it not for the lowered price and the pretty cool idea of having the “deluxe” edition include a buddy pass (which means a friend can play the game with you for free, but they don’t actually own the game), this game would not have been on this list, because it would have been simply disappointing.
- The Hong Kong Massacre
The Hong Kong Massacre is like a Michael Bay movie to me; I have tremendous amount of respect for it, but the reason I consume it is purely because I don’t like it and it makes me appreciate and understand the reasons why I like similar stuff and what they do better than this. I appreciated the craft it took to create games like Hotline Miami, but not until Hong Kong Massacre have I truly understood how challenging it must have been to create something so finely balanced and addictively cool like Hotline Miami; HKM is trying its hardest to not be that game – not because the developers don’t want to. It makes more sense and is a lot easier to just play the game slow and boring; pick of your shots from far away, slow down time as much as possible, slowly progress through the levels, and don’t take risks. You can obviously do all of that and that’s where the game becomes fun and a close representation of John Woo movies, but even there the challenge ramps up to a frustrating degree that it made me choose between two bad choices: Push through the frustration so you can get seconds of mild enjoyment, or go back to the boring, efficient way of playing and stop out of boredom. I did the second, but I hope people try this game because the first option (if the game can make you choose that) is incredibly appealing.
- Freedom Finger
Freedom Finger is the game I spent the least amount of time with in this list, and (alongside Creature in the Well) the one most likely to go back to. Like AWAY, this is a game that sells itself just from the way it looks, but also from the way it plays; it’s an old style shoot em’up with bullet hell elements and a unique mechanic that allows you to grab enemies and use their abilities against other enemies, and then throw them away like the unwanted garbage that they are. It’s got an irreverent, juvenile sense of humor and looks like a web comic from the 2000s, which was incredibly appealing to me – and still is. What I found to be a deal breaker (at least for now) is the incredibly punishing challenge it offers; it’s not that the game is a tilt-inducing challenge, it’s more that the levels are way too long for this type of game and loosing means starting the level from scratch, which also means listening to the same track again (and again, and again), fighting the same enemies, on the same level, with the same layout. This isn’t a complete dismissal of this game (none entries on this list are solely negative), but it was a game I bought on launch and was very excited about it, only to put it down after a couple of hours with it for something else. Hopefully 2020 will allow me to enjoy this game the way that I want to.
2. The World Next Door
I had no expectations when it came to this game besides that I had seen it on GOG and thought it looks fun – I like match-3 puzzle games and I hadn’t played one for quite a while, so this looks like a good enough excuse to sink my teeth into. TWND is a victim of its own success, because by the end of my 4-hour playthrough I was enthralled with its take on match-3 puzzles and wanted so much more that I couldn’t help but feel a bit dissatisfied with what was on offer. The idea of having a physical character moving on the grid to match tiles, while avoiding attacks from enemies was so good, but never really offered more than that or increased in difficulty to present a satisfying challenge arc. The story of a character from a different version of our world getting stuck on a parallel world of “monsters” was filled to the brim with potential for a narrative that could have been worthwhile (whether it was dramatic or goofy or whatever), but it was just forgettable. The art style looked cool in dialogue screens, but in game it was just rough looking and unpolished, while actual movement on the grid was clunky and needed a lot more of work done. All these reasons are the reasons that this game is on this list and not on the best games list, but they are also the reason why I want a sequel to this game as much as any of the games on the best games list; I want the movement fixed, the challenge to be satisfying, the story to have substance, the art to amaze me, because what is present on this game is a very cool idea that can work amazingly and become one of my favorite games, but the game just feels rushed. What is there is good, but it is also enough to suggest a much better game that could easily go toe to toe with other great games, and it is the reason why this is my 2nd game on this list and not in the other one.
- John Wick Hex
Mike Bithell is a developer whose games I absolutely love; from Thomas was alone to the Circular series, he is someone who has brought me joy with his games and will always be looking forward to what he has to offer me next. To my joyful surprise, his next game was going to be an official John Wick game, and to my even better surprise it was not going to be a shooter, but rather an X-COM-like tactical game with a unique twist tailor-made for the Wick franchise. This part of the equation works wonders; I have never played a tactical game that forces you to adapt and think on your feet like John Wick Hex does. Replacing the turn-based format of similar games with a timeline that advances with every move is such a slam-dunk, and it creates moments of pure ecstasy that makes the game an incredible journey of feeling like one-man death machine that is still a man and has to be smart, efficient, and deadly to survive the insurmountable odds placed against him; a Baba-Yaga that is as vulnerable as he is deadly. You can imagine my disappointment then, when I figured out that every thing else on the game is different phases of bad; there’s a SUPERHOT-esque replay system that regularly gets stuck on walls and looks stupid (even when what you are doing felt awesome on the tactical view), a rogue-lite progression system that makes the game feel unnecessarily frustrating (I can’t tell you how many times I had to start a whole map over, because on the second to last level some dudes kept on spawning and left me with no gun and health, which made the last level impossible to beat) and does not offer any interesting upgrade options, while the narrative is (once again) not that interesting or worthwhile and the art-style looks cool while playing, but then looks absolutely goofy while watching and takes away any desire to have a look at those replays. It is by far the most disappointed I have been with a game in quite a while, which is made even more hard to swallow when you consider that the game is fantastic and the systems making it unplayable are either unnecessary or could have been fixed/replaced. I’ll leave you with this story, which summarizes the entire game neatly for me (and for my entertainment, please read it in your head through Keanu Reave’s gravely voice); it’s the story of one of my most memorable gaming moments of the year and the moment I stopped playing the game entirely. After a few tries on the second map that ended in frustrating restarts, I finally had a good run going; I had a pistol with a dozen of bullets – which in Baba-Yaga’s capable hands meant a dozen goons meeting their maker – and most of my health intact, while making my way through this labyrinthine club I enter the next level with the utmost confidence and the chances in my favor. But, as it usually happens with most confident men, something came and knocked the wind out of my sails, shoving me back to earth and making sure I knew where my place was; in this club, you tread carefully or you die wishing you had. Taking out an easy target is always a bait in a place like this, giving the chance to others to sneak up behind you, next to you, and in front of you; I lost my bullets reshaping the walls of the club and ending lives that had cost me most of my health and ammo. I had gotten cocky and payed the price; now all that remains in front of me are a set of stairs with more goons than I have bullets, and no room for error as the next hit will be fatal. The next level starts favorably; a goon looking away from me, easy prey so I just sneak up and take him out – one down, too many to go. I have to get my priorities straight: Pick up gun from goon – check; find bandages – hmm, there’s a room on my right, so fingers crossed some goon left me a gift. As I make my way to the room, I catch with the corner of my eye a goon lurking close, so I have to take him out; two down. But then, lady luck had enough of my sneaking and decided it was time to see what I was made of; she had sent another goon that way who saw me break his friend’s hand in several places and end his life before he had time to feel the pain from the initial blow. Be careful what you wish for: I shoot him from across the room before he can get a good angle on me. Shit hit the fan and I’m caught in the middle of it wounded and barely scrapping by; I make my way to the room, but instead of finding the salvation of bandages, I find damnation in 3 goons all looking straight at me. I crouch and roll out of that room, counting my bullets and my blessings – this was do or die. Baba-Yaga does: shoot the first guy out of that room, move away from eyesight and catch the second guy wondering where you are and why after a loud bang he feels unable to stop himself from collapsing to the ground, while the third guy takes a shot at me which somehow is not enough to end me, before I end him. I didn’t even have margin of error, but I guess lady luck gave me one last chance to keep impressing her – I’m not about to let that go to waste. I play it smart: Move close to the walls and avoid the horde of goons bound to be waiting for me at the set of stairs out of this hell hole, get into the room in front of me, find supplies and triumph or find nothing and die trying. I guess lady luck is not down with my more methodical approach to keeping alive; she wants blood, action, and men who kill each other just to survive. What I find is the man I’m looking for and his bodyguards: Osborn is as surprised to see me as I am to see him, and is slow to react as I rush out of the room. I see a man coming up the stairs, as if sent by lady luck to give me a fighting chance; his gun would be the end of all his friends. I crouch and roll near him and before he even senses me, I stand up and shoot him all the while behind a pillar that saved my life blocking the shot intended towards me by one of the guards, now out of the room and looking for blood. I crouch and check the body, only to find out that lady luck is not going easy on me; this man used to be a brawler, meaning that his hands are his weapons, which is of no use to me with two bullets left and multiple goons closing in. As soon as I realize this, a goon points his gun at me, hoping to be the man who finally brings down Baba-Yaga; I pick up his gun from his previously ambitious body and now I realize the storm of shit I found myself into. There was no sneaking past this, no bandages to give me margin of error, only me and the bullets intended towards me; I use the gun on one of the bodyguards and bring him down, which makes his partner really mad. He shoots, but his first shot misses because lady luck isn’t done with me, and his second because I crouched as I wasn’t done with him; I roll away behind a pillar, I need time to refocus. The bodyguard is closing in, but I’m not worried about him, because a goon has his pistol set on me; I throw my weapon at him, buying some time, as the bodyguard tries to sneak up on me. But the Baba-Yaga can’t be sneaked up on; instead, I go around the wall and sneak up on him, taking him out and using his gun to end the gun who was just about to pick up his pistol again and set it on me. Osborn is here now and he’s no regular dude; I need to take him down first before shooting him, and even then, a beast of his size would need several bullets to put down. So I take him down and shoot him twice, before more goons show up; I take his gun and use it against one of the goons, while sneaking away and taking down the other one. Lady luck must be enjoying the show, because while taking down the 2nd goon, Osborn takes a shot at me and misses while I acrobatically take down the poor bastard who came up against me in such a desperate state. He’s now across the room where one of the guns was dropped, so I crouch roll my way near him and let him take another hopeless shot at me, before I take him down twice again and put down the ferocious beast with my last remaining bullets. I take his gun as a souvenir of my victory, but mostly because I knew I wasn’t done. At the end of those stairs, there were many more goons waiting for me…well, actually real life me was about to get a rude awakening, because after such a satisfying and intense encounter, I was treated with a goofy looking replay of John Wick moving like a mad man back and forward on a (invisible) hexenal grid, the action replaced by luminescent figures behind a wall, and lots of waiting and sudden camera changes that make no sense; following that was the next level which starts with 4 dudes waiting for John, and me with 3 bullets and no health or bandages, so I just kept dying over and over again, which eventually led me to press the “quit” button, instead of the restart, because I knew that only resetting the level would allow me to progress. This is why I stopped playing John Wick Hex after having such a strong experience with it (I honestly did not go back to the game since it came out, this scene is just burned in my memory now), and this is why it is the game out of all this year I dearly, sorely, and viscerally hopped I liked more than I did, because if the things that bugged me were not there or were replaced, I would be talking about my number one game of the year (and probably of all time), rather than the game I wished was different.