Let’s show the world video games aren’t just Call of Duty and FIFA, eh? Here’s fifteen games that showcase the breadth, creativity and wonder of video games today;
You know that conversation, right? When you tell someone your hobby is gaming. That awkward stare, that somewhat uncomfortable ‘oh, still?’. Yes, Karen, still. Whilst we spend the majority of our lives defending our love for the worlds most creative and exciting industry, where the technological advancements far exceed the likes of movies and soap operas (even though they’re more respected?), gaming continues to evolve and the general populous have no idea of an enormous part of the industry that endlessly creates. You know, along with only ever seeing adverts for Call of Duty and FIFA in their ad breaks for Coronation Street.
So, following on from a topic on this week’s Finger Guns Podcast, where we discussed the persistent gaming stigma, I wanted to weigh in with video games that have moved me emotionally, far more than any movie or episode of Eastenders has ever done. Video games that I consider examples of just how diverse and interesting the industry continues to be and if I’m ever in the conversation again with someone who doesn’t understand the vast range of video game types that now exist, these are the fifteen I would use to demonstrate just how alive and fascinating an industry it can be.
And yes, there are plenty I’ve not included, so if you have any suggestions, do sound off in the comments below.
Now, let’s unpack this with, well…
Unpacking is perhaps one of the ‘coziest’ games ever made. Telling a story of a single persons entire life without a single piece of dialogue or written narrative, her story is presented from her childhood bedroom to her final home, where…well, I won’t spoil it here, but it’s beautiful.
Part block-fitting puzzler and decoration game, you pick up clues and learn valuable life lessons throughout – the moving level which finds our protagonists belongings not fitting anywhere in a home that isn’t right for her will tug the heartstrings – with a peaceful soundtrack and no time constraints, Unpacking tells a story without telling a story, an entire lifetime presented in the simple act of unpacking your stuff when you move to a new home.
It’s a beautiful experience and if you’re looking for the kind of title you can show someone about just how moving games can be in a way that books and movies simply can’t, you can’t go wrong with Unpacking.
I offered to review Lake completely on a whim. I had a small idea of what it was about, but I hadn’t seen any trailers or write-ups about it, only that it was a quick four hour-ish experience that would appeal to me.
And appeal it did. Lake is a fascinating, gloriously chill adventure that I proclaimed as my 2021 Game of the Year, no less and I still very much stand by this.
As Meredith Weiss, you walk in her shoes way back in 1986 with a high powered city job to take over your Dad’s postal job for two weeks while he’s on a well deserved vacation. It’s your task to pick up parcels at the depot and deliver them across the small mountain town of Providence Oaks, meeting the locals along the way who are (mostly) very pleased to see you again. Your postal van doesn’t go very fast, so it’s almost as if the game is encouraging you to take it easy and just enjoy the beautiful views that surround you including, you guessed it, an enormous lake that the entire town surrounds. It’s pretty. It’s very pretty.
Across the story you learn of Meredith’s connections to Providence Oaks dwellers, those who never left and those who want to escape, Meredith can find love, deliver VCR players to encourage the locals to use the rental video store (with some cracking alternative names for some classic 80’s movies that are well worth a nose) and take old ladies’ cats to the vets. It’s absurdly mellow, giving you all the time in the world to deliver your parcels and letters, allowing Meredith the time to relax and socialise with her old friends in the evening. There’s no right or wrong in Lake, and you get to choose the ending of the story.
Ah, Lake. I miss it. It’s available on Xbox and PC and will be coming to PlayStation very soon where I’ll play it all over again.
I find it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that Firewatch is six years old. Way back in ‘before Finger Guns days’ of our PlayStation exclusive site PSGamer, I was fortunate enough to get a review code for Campo Santo’s masterpiece, and I rushed to my PS4 to redeem it within minutes and ended up playing it all night in a single sitting. There’s very little like Firewatch out there and in the six years since release, it can be argued that nothing has come quite as close to its unnerving relaxation.
Set in the Wyoming wilderness, you play a fire lookout named Henry who has to investigate strange occurences happening to him and Delilah, his only form of company and a persistent voice in his radio (and played by the amazing Cissy Jones, who won a BAFTA for her performance). Their friendship is the core of the game, building their new relationship through humour and sarcasm. Allowing you dialogue options for Henry to snark right back at Delilah is a great touch, ensuring that she always has your back regardless of how weird things begin to get in the wilderness.
There are little secrets and things to find all over Firewatch, and it’s exploration is all the more encouraged because of this. It’s a game that wants you to find all of its secrets, of which there are many, and as you uncover the games mysteries you become more and more unsure of the wilderness, the job, Delilah and your place in the masterplan. It’s just a brilliant game with plenty to offer new video game players and one I’ll always recommend to anyone who wants to know more about gaming.
Hence why it’s on the list, y’see.
Another guarantee is…
WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH
There’s very little I can add here that hasn’t already been said about the masterpiece that is What Remains of Edith Finch. Sean’s brilliant review summed it all up incredibly well, and if you’re looking for something a little darker than what I’ve added to far, you simply can’t go wrong here.
I remember reading Sean’s review before playing Edith Finch, and I still didn’t really have much of an idea of what was to come. That’s not to state Sean didn’t do a good enough job explaining the game, it’s more the fact you simply don’t know what to really expect until you explore the doomed house yourself. The house, the centrepoint of the game and where you’ll be exploring for several hours, is an absolute triumph of design, intrigue and sadness, telling the individual stories of each family member that once lived there, and as you relive their final moments you begin to unravel the mysteries the house holds, and it’s here I had tears rolling down my face. If this game doesn’t get you in certain moments (hello, bathtub), then you may have a stone heart and you might want to call someone about that.
As mentioned above, it’s difficult to discuss without wanting to delve into the games secrets, but I won’t here. Safe to say What Remains of Edith Finch is an exquisite, essential experience for anyone and I personally consider it one of the greatest video games ever made.
Ah, Brexit. Remember that? No? It seems like a distant memory at this point, such is the absolute carnage of the last few years. We can all get together in a pub right now and discuss what the word meant and we may all have a differing answer as to how it affected you in some way, and whilst your Uncle is probably delighted that his beloved United Kingdom has ‘taken back control’, one could argue a glorious counterpoint and that exact glorious counterpoint is Panic Barn’s Not Tonight.
Set in a fictionalised(?) version of a future UK after Brexit, Not Tonight places you in the shoes of an immigrant who works as a bouncer on the door of various pubs and nightclubs, and it’s your job to check ID’s to ensure that underage folks aren’t getting into your venues. Away from this mechanic you live a dark life, a UK with very little to offer anyone except those privileged enough to have been born there with a skin colour the extreme right-wing government deems acceptable.
Your name is simply ‘Person of European Heritage #112’, and the darkness and misery this game possesses is fairly terrifying. In order to keep your VISA to stay in the UK you have to work, and work, and work. Your flat is awful, your friends have been rounded up and deported and you’re simply existing from the beginning of the game to the end.
It’s bleak and brutal and an experience that only games can provide.
THAT DRAGON CANCER
Emotionally charged unlike anything else on this list, That Dragon Cancer was created by Ryan and Amy Green, Josh Larson and a team Numinous Games. It’s based on the Greens’ experience raising their son Joel, diagnosed with terminal cancer at 12 months old. He survived four more years more losing his battle with cancer in March of 2014.
The game is designed to experience the high and low moments of raising a child who isn’t going to be around for long, via a point and click adventure game.
It was originally made whilst Joel was alive, his parents uncertain of his health, though after he passed the game was reworked to memoralise their interactions with Joel for the player. It’s easy to say this a sad experience but it’s almost certainly more than that. It’s a powerful, intense and heartbreaking creation, immortalising a loved one in a way that only video games can offer, through interaction and beautiful storytelling. I recommend it to as many people as I can as something that’s unique to the genre, and also deeply moving. By the end you feel like you’ve gotten to know Joel well, and it’s all the more devastating when the experience ends.
There’s a terrific documentary that you can watch alongside the game called Thank You for Playing, which I highly recommend seeking out, documenting the development of the game and the last few years of Joel’s life.
NIGHT IN THE WOODS
‘Wow Ross, it really took you this long to bring up Night in the Woods again?’. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. If you’re a regular listener of our podcast or just a long-time fan of Finger Guns you’ll already be fully aware of my absolute adoration for Night in the Woods. I’ve shouted it from the rooftops for many a moon and I will continue to because it’s in my Top 5 Video Games of All Time and I could spend my life arguing that it should probably be forever protected in a bubble so it can stay perfect for all of human history to visit and marvel at its magnificence.
But why? Well, the link above tells you why. My review of this game is perhaps my most intensely personal I’ve ever written. Whilst I was playing the game I felt like I was the main character, and that very, very rarely happens to me. The story of Mae (an anthropomorphic cat, remember), going back to her hometown of other anthro animals after dropping out of college and looking for her place in the world is something I think we can all relate to in some form and throughout Mar finds herself in a band, ‘doing crimes’, trying to reconnect with her old friends and proving to her parents that she is still worth something.
It’s a veritable hodgepodge of sadness and uncomfortable moments for Mae, but her friends stand beside her nonetheless. She has a close group of friends who are 100% ‘ride or die’ and it makes for a tremendously fulfilling experience.
I love Mae and I want her to kick the worlds ass and by the end of the game, you will too.
LIFE IS STRANGE
Perhaps one of the more popular games on the list so far, Life is Strange is a narrative driven adventure game telling the story of Maxine Caulfield (or Max), returning to her hometown of Arcadia Bay where she witnesses the shooting of her friend Chloe Price in the school bathroom. The incident triggers Max’s ability to rewind time, allowing Max to save Chloe from the gunman. And from there, well, shenanigans ensue…
There’s a whole lot to Life is Strange, and this is just the first in what is now a full series of terrific video games. This first episodic based experience remains the most beloved, though, with our own Miles declaring that for him it’s ‘that’ game he would recommend to newcomers to the industry, such the way the game affected him when he first played it.
It’s a fair statement, the relationship between Max and Chloe is written beautifully, and through dialogue choices you feel hugely invested in what awaits them, wanting to ensure that the trauma they go through is worthwhile.
One aspect of the game that’s well worth shouting from the rooftops about is the soundtrack, which is perhaps one of the best in gaming memory. Using licensed songs from singer/songwriters, they really build the world and the setting, allowing you fall deeper in love with Arcadia Bay and its in habitants.
Get it played. Then we’ll talk about Before The Storm. And The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. And Life is Strange 2. And Life is Strange True Colours. There’s a lot of strangeness in these lives.
IT TAKES TWO
Ah, It Takes Two. The game created by all-round madman and absolute legend Josef Fares at Hazelight Games took home Game of The Year at the 2021 Game Awards, and it’s easy to see why. From the outset this game is something very different, and you can be forgiven for thinking it probably should have been a Pixar film before a video game but once again, our favourite industry is the only way to tell a story that celebrates nearly every single genre of video game in a single experience, and is all the better for it.
It Takes Two tells the story of Eve and Cody, a married couple on the brink of divorce. In her sadness, their daughter makes dolls of her parents which they magically turn into, and it’s up to them to find that spark between them once again in order for them to turn back into their normal selves.
It’s a fascinating premise for an action-adventure game, and one that we very rarely see in games of this type. It Takes Two is a full on blockbuster, moulding every conceivable idea of what an action-adventure game can be and just making it as fun as bloody possible to play.
One of the unique aspects of the game of course is that it’s entirely co-operative, meaning you have to play this game with another person, so the levels are designed in brilliantly unique ways in order to progress, encouraging critical thinking between you and a partner to make it through the game and turn Eve and Cody back to their human selves.
Much has been said about the story – and yes, it certainly goes places you don’t expect – but there’s no doubt that gameplay wins in It Takes Two. It’s an absolute delight to play from beginning to end, and well worthy of the plaudits it’s receiving across the board.
If you’re looking for something to play with a partner, there’s no better game right now. It takes two, baby.
Hot on the heels of the ever popular ‘battle royale’ genre, Mediatonic’s now enormous Fall Guys landed on PlayStation and PC in 2020 shaking up the genre by having 60 players battle it out in Total Wipeout like arenas to be the first past the finish line in an ever increasingly tough battle gauntlets, where you simply have to outrace your opponent in order to progress to the final. Be the last ‘bean’ standing and you’ll take home the crown. It’s that simple.
Except, it really isn’t. The beauty of Fall Guys is that it’s a game that anyone can have a go on and learn the basics, but the addiction comes from wanting to do better and better each time, racking up failures that you assume is just bad luck (or, as us gamer folk like to call it, ‘utter bullshit’). Fall Guys is supremely easy to understand, you’ve just got to get good at it in order to stand any chance in winning a crown.
Now a few seasons in, Fall Guys has become quite the staple of gaming nights with me and my friends, and whilst the first season I was tearing up the joint getting crowns left, right and centre, now it’s become quite the challenge, encouraging me to get better and better at the brand new levels each season adds. The premise and the idea is the same, you’ve just got to work just that little bit harder and sneakier than your opponents in order to cross the finish line, all through the most colourful and serotonin blasting visual aesthetics you’ll probably ever see. Fall Guys is a celebration of a simple idea that’s become massive, and with your mates it’s an absolute riot.
‘Easy to pick up, hard to master’ has never been more prevalent. Well, except for maybe…
Ah, Rocket League. No story. No narrative. No nothing. You’re a car, there’s a giant ball and you have to get the ball into the oppositions goal to win.
That’s it. Footy with cars. It’s unashamedly easy to understand, brilliantly simple to pick up and play and yet if you want to get good, it’s gonna take a whole lotta effort in order to play with the bigguns.
Rocket League has been around now for what feels like my entire life and yet it only launched in 2015. Free to PlayStation Plus members upon launch it very quickly became a phenomenon, capturing that ‘easy to start, hard to master’ quandary absolutely perfectly. It can be deceptively simple and also bastard hard and that’s the goddamn sauce that makes you want to keep playing over and over.
Now owned by Epic Games (the guys that make Fortnite, which is a game you n00bs have probably also heard of), it’s completely free to play and continues to have an enormous fanbase. It’s well worth a blast.
Sorry this one is short, there ain’t much else to say about it. Footy with cars, init.
‘Tetris? I’m trying to sell non-gamers on Tetris? Ross, everyone has played Tetris and they all know what it is…’
Yes, I get it. I hear your cries and of course, everyone knows bloody Tetris. Hell, even my Mum knows what Tetris is and the only game she’s ever truly loved is Wordle. It’s an absolute stone-cold classic, a game revered by generations and something that will remain a part of our lives for all time.
But then there’s Tetris Effect. And if you’re reading this article as one of the people it’s particularly aimed at, I recommend you just watch the trailer above. Nothing will sell you on this game like seeing it in action. Just do it. Off you go. I’ll wait. It’s all good. Just watch it.
Are you back?
Ah, there you are. I see you’re speechless. You didn’t know Tetris could be so goddamn beautiful did you? That’s Tetris Effect, named after the psychological experience of going out in the world and seeing Tetris blocks in the shapes of buildings, street lanes, pavements, anything. The ‘Tetris Effect’ is what this version of the game is based on and it’s absolutely stunning.
I recommend playing this in the dark, with headphones on and completely losing yourself in the beautiful visuals, the gorgeous soundtrack and simply play Tetris in a whole new way. There’s absolutely nothing like it and it remains of my favourite ever experiences.
And well, if you play it in VR it’s even more astonishing.
A game that came to prominence during the 2020 lockdown, InnerSloth’s Among Us is a social deduction game where you play as a crewmate on a spaceship and it’s up to you to get your tasks done on the ship in order to stay afloat. But damn, on your crew there are Impostors, who are murdering your crewmates! It’s up to you through clues and evidence to find the impostor and yeet them out of their airlock into the cold vacuum of space / lava / the sky so you can survive.
Among Us was a game I was very late to. By the time it came to consoles it already had two years of massive popularity behind it and there was plenty of people singing its praises, and for good reason. If you can get a bunch of your mates together to play essentially ‘Werewolf’ in space, you’re going to have a brilliant time. Perhaps the most ‘digital board game’ on this list, it’s up to you, your detective skills and your knowledge of the other players to determine if they are suspicious and stop them from killing all your friends or if you’re the impostor, your lying skills better be top notch else you’re gonna feel the burn very quickly.
It’s a cracking little experience that is still played by millions across the world, and it’s only gonna get bigger. It’s also free-to-play on mobile, so there’s really no excuse to not try it out.
Dreams is quite something. Created by Media Nolecule (creators of the hugely popular LittleBigPlanet series), Dreams is effectively a development tool, allowing creative players to make their own games, music and movies through their PlayStations.
And it’s a masterful tool. Fortunately if you don’t feel like you have the know-how to make games (much like I don’t. I tried on Dreams and yeah..no), there’s an absolute megaton of creations that you can play yourself and explore the wild creativity of human people that can make incredible things with the powerful tools that Dreams offers.
There appears to be no limits, the infinite possibilities if you have the know-how and the patience to do it is something that’s well worth experiencing. Dreams is a monumental package that, when explored deeply enough, showcases just how unstoppable video games can become.
Dreams is a marvel.
THE LAST OF US / PART II
OK, finally I wanted to add, well, perhaps one of the most cinematic, engrossing, emotionally charged and utterly phenomenal gaming experiences us industry fans have had the pleasure of experiencing for the past few years.
There’s very little like The Last of Us. Again, you would have heard us wax lyrical about these games on the podcast a whole lot – and we dedicated an entire episode to The Last of Us Part II on the one year anniversary of its release – there’s a good reason for that. The Last of Us is a generational masterpiece. A quite remarkable showcase for how to tell enormous stories through the medium of video games, ripping your heart out in the first 30 minutes and slowly building it back together over the course of the next 25 hours. A fascinating journey that is best experienced without knowing anything going in and just going along for the ride. The story of Ellie and Joel is a connection that has never been bettered in gaming and hell, most other mediums.
Then there’s The Last of Us: Part II. It’s polarising, it divided even the most hardcore of PlayStation fans and depending on who you talk to is either the greatest game ever made or the biggest disappointment in the history of the industry (again, our podcast very much features both sides, so if you want to view the game from both sides I highly recommend you give it a listen). The Last of Us: Part II is an experience that will leave you cold, will leave you broken and hollow and yet, again depending on what side you fall on, is exactly the experience you wanted or nothing that you expected.
The game is designed this way. Like The Last Jedi or the end of Line of Duty. It’s supposed to divide the audience. It’s supposed to challenge the naysayers, the ones who just wanted a retread of the original and a happy ending. In this world happy endings don’t exist, you just have to ride it out and see who survives on the other side.
Part II is a reminder that art is meant to be challenging. It’s not always supposed to be exactly what you want and that’s why I feel like it’s an essential experience. For my money, I loved that the game subverted (nay, demolished) my expectations, and I will forever stand by its decisions because I didn’t need to see a game where Ellie and I just traversed the world moving ladders cracking jokes. That was the first game, let’s see something new. Damn did developers Naughty Dog deliver on that one.
HBO are currently making a TV series based on the first game which is due in 2023. If you don’t play the game, watch the series. The story is that good. So good they couldn’t make it into a movie because there’s too many wonderful moments they didn’t want to cut.
You’ll never play anything like The Last of Us. It simply has to be experienced.
And that’s our list! If you have any more why not add them below or get in touch over on Twitter, we’d love to hear which games you’d show to new players that we didn’t include on our selections.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.