The venerable Halo franchise holds a hallowed place in the history of gaming as one of the greatest FPS franchises ever, even if the more recent entries from 343 Industries are more… divisive. But in the midst of that all that first-person goodness it’s easy to forget the two Halo spin-offs that took the series in very different directions. The two top-down twin-stick shooters were terrible attempts to capitalise on the Halo name and should never been spoken of in polite conversation. Halo Wars, on the other hand, fared much better when it tried to help bring the RTS genre to the Xbox 360 in 2009 and earned itself a sequel, albeit a sequel that eight years to arrive. While Halo Wars 2 is actually the newest Halo game to have been released, it’s also incredibly easy to overlook. I’m here to tell you that Halo Wars 2 is a real-time strategy gem that acts as a great jumping off point for bigger, more awesome RTS titles.
On the very first Best of Xbox Game Pass last week I opted to kick things off with something light and airy and cheerful. Peggle 2 is the epitome of a game anyone can pick up and play. This week in the Best of Xbox Game Pass I’m going completely in the opposite direction with a Grand strategy game that is so Grand it needs a capital G. Stellaris: Console Edition is an epic strategy game where you take control of an entire civilization and guide it as it ventures out into the depths of space to colonize new planets, discover incredible secrets, find alien races, engage in wars that span the galaxy, form alliances and hopefully carve out their place in the universe. Stellaris can be dauntingly huge thanks to its focus on menus and numbers, but if you’re willing to sacrifice almost all your free time and possibly your first-born child to it, Stellaris can also be incredibly rewarding.
Peggle 2 made its way onto Game Pass fairly recently thanks to EA Play getting rolled into the already gigantic library of titles. And what a brilliant addition it is, a colourful explosion of goodness that is fine-tuned to make you smile. Over the years since its initial launch in 2013, Peggle 2 has become a game I go back to regularly when I’m looking to just kick back and relax with something simple yet satisfying, easy yet tricky. While people argue over whether Peggle 2 is a good sequel or not, for me it’s easily the best of the available Peggle games.
There are a lot of games on the market and it’s impossible to play all of them. But that can also be a good thing, because later on you can stumble upon an older game and play it free of all the initial hype and excitement. That’s exactly my experience with Death Stranding, the latest rollercoaster ride of madness from Kojima. When it first launched in 2019 I wasn’t at all interested in reviewing or playing it. I think at the time I wasn’t in the right mindset for it, and I was busy with so many other games that I let it fly past. But when Death Stranding made its PC debut earlier this year my mindset was a little different and I checked it out. I’m glad I did.
2020 saw quite a few series being resurrected, their decaying corpses being dug up, dusted off, jammed into some new clothes and shoved out of the door. Crash Bandicoot came back to a great reception and Desperados emerged after years and years of hibernation, just two prime examples. But for me the best comeback after a lengthy absence in 2020 was Streets of Rage 4, the first game in the series since Streets of Rage 3 way, way back in 1994.
The year of 2020 was one filled with remakes and remasters, from huge titles like Final Fantasy VII and Demon’s Souls to more surprising games like Destroy All Humans. But for me there was only one remake that I could pick, the one that has brought the most nostalgic joy to my wizened and bitter heart. Ladies and gentlemen, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 was fucking amazing.
In some ways it feels wrong to pick a game that so few people got to play. There’s no denying, though, that Half-Life: Alyx was the best PC exclusive I played this year, and the best VR game by a mile. VR remains an incredibly immersive and fascinating […]
What other game than Cyberpunk 2077 could possibly have won this illustrous award that hundreds of developers clamor over to claim? Well, truthfully, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla almost took the crown due to being a buggy mess and the fact that I still can’t actually finish the game to this day. But then Cyberpunk 2077 stomped in, struck a T-pose, gliding across the floor and stole the crown right out from under Eivor’s hooded gaze.
Launched back in March, Ori & the Will of the Wisps received a lot of glowing reviews but was damaged by performance issues. But since I only got around to finally playing it last week those issues have been resolved and new, shiny Xbox Series X and Series enhancements came out. In other words, I played Ori & the Will of the Wisps in its best form, blissfully unaware of any launch woes it might have suffered from. And I’m so glad I stumbled upon it this way, because it’s a glorious, playful, vibrant, wonderful game and feels like it has been vastly overlooked and underappreciated, despite it being on Games Pass.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales was a strong contender for the best Playstation game of 2020, delivering another slice of outstanding web-slinging combined with a fun story. But Miles Morales was a known quantity – after the success of Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018, it seemed a safe bet that a follow-up would be terrific. But Ghost of Tsushima was an unknown element. Yes, Sucker Punch have a rich and successful history, but Ghost of Tsushima was a brand-new IP that didn’t actually have much hype and marketing prior to hitting store shelves, and wound up launching right next to the biggest Playstation title of the year, The Last of Us Part 2. That’s a daunting thought for any developer. And yet Sucker Punch didn’t need to be worried because of Ghost of Tsushima ended up being the perfect antidote to The Last of Us 2’s relentless assault of dark themes and violence. The Last of Us Part 2 is beautiful from a technical perspective, but Ghost of Tsushima is beautiful in the truest sense. I constantly abused the photo-mode, taking dozens and dozens of pictures of Tsushima’s awe-inspiring landscapes.