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Games of 2020: Paradise Killer

In a year where facts were in question, a game about truth.

And may you reach the moon.

By the time Paradise Killer hit the market, it was September 2020. For perspective in the future when these memories feel less fresh, that’s six months deep into COVID-19 and two months from the presidential election. The world felt in limbo, society near a breaking point.

Diving into the bizarre world of Paradise 24, striving to solve The Crime To End All Crime, I approached it as an escape. It ended up as something more meditative.

Gameplay, quickly: open world detective game with minimal hand holding. Investigate a bloody crime scene. Interview suspects as you chase multiple leads. Name the guilty and bring justice to a dying island.

Much has been said elsewhere about Paradise Killer’s unique styyyyyyyle:

“The world of Paradise Killer is a queer-friendly, cosmic horror bonanza; a heady mix of sun-drenched Miami Beach paradise meets madness from beyond the stars. The lurid aesthetic and vibrant soundtrack is decidedly at odds with the traditional cosmic horror tropes of imposing libraries, fish-headed monsters, and gruff investigators.”

Haydn Taylor, GameIndustry.biz

Relatedly, I stand by my earlier declaration that Paradise Killer has the best game soundtrack of 2020. That alone is enough to check it out.

What made the game feel most unique, though, is the philosophical question placed in front of you by Justice as you begin your investigation: “fact or truth?”

If you miss out on a fact somewhere along the way, does the truth change? Does your truth change?

If you have a fact that is inconvenient for a character that helped you – that might implicate them – do you include it in your truth?

To be forced to grapple with these questions in a video game was refreshing. To have largely free reign to find justice, rather than being stuck on pre-designed narrative pathways with a tidy ending to the mystery was a true joy.

For a first title from a two-person studio, Paradise Killer is ambitious as hell and succeeds more than it fails. And that’s the truth.

Paradise Killer is available on Steam, Switch, and PS4. I clocked about 12 hours on the Steam version.

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Games of 2020: Hades

In a year we could not escape, a game about escaping.

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Like so many others this year, I spent chunks of it trying to break my way out of hell. Supergiant’s Hades is the easiest game metaphor for 2020.

I have been no stranger to roguelikes over the years, so the run-die-learn-upgrade cycle of Hades fits like a glove. Struggling to cut a path through the four levels of the Underworld, that familiar sting of learning through failure was intoxicating.

Supergiant — previously of Bastion — continues to excel at every dimension of game design. Gorgeous graphics, another spectacular Darren Korb soundtrack, balanced mechanics, smooth gameplay. This high quality is almost a base level expectation of Supergiant now, so let me praise what came as a surprise:

First, a downright intimidating amount of voice acting. A run-based game should invite repetition, but through my 40+ escape attempts I haven’t heard a single bit of repeated dialog.

Second, I am appreciative of their commitment to scalable and managable difficulty. I was at risk of bouncing off the game entirely after 20 failed runs, so I opted to enable GOD MODE. The game didn’t shame me, didn’t disable my ability to earn progression, and didn’t even make me invincible – just gave me a little bit of an extra boost for each failure. The lack of judgment kept me going, and now I find myself grinding “heat”, a configurable difficulty system to keep later runs entertaining.

Last, I am genuinely impressed they found a way to wrap the run-centric nature of the game into the story itself, allowing for a unique narrative and a clever game loop to develop.

It’s as refined a game as you’ll find in 2020. If only that were enough to top my list this year. But it was a tough year.

Hades is available on PC and Switch. I clocked about 30 hours in the PC version.

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Games of 2020: Index

In a year we could not escape, a game about escaping.

In a year where facts were in question, a game about truth.

In a year where live music fell silent, a game that kept the beat going.

In a year of unrest, a game about documenting it.

In a year without travel, a game about the road.

My reflections on the games that made an impact on me in 2020 will be posted as quickly as I can write them.