Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Throughout this week, The A.V. Club has been running our picks for the best pop culture of the first half of 2021, a celebration of art made in the long shadow of the collective miseries of the last year-plus. Our games coverage is, of course, no different, with the list of our favorite titles of the year hitting the site tomorrow morning. But in looking over the picks one last time before putting the feature to bed, a question snuck into my mind, one that never lurks far from home: “Hey, am I being an asshole here?”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of, and stand by, our list, which highlights some great titles, from indie games all the way through big-budget system-sellers. But it’s inevitable, when you look at any kind of Grand Summation Of The State Of Games with a bit of hindsight, for the gaps to quickly become glaring. And so I thought I’d use this week’s What Are You Playing This Weekend as a bit of metaphorical spackle, and a preemptive appendix to tomorrow’s Real List; you could even think of it as a sort of teaser, except the only person I’m actually teasing is myself, because, seriously: How the hell did I leave The Binding Of Isaac: Repentance off a list of the best games of the first half of 2021?
After all, the final (probably actually final) expansion to Edmund McMillen’s exceptionally long-lived roguelike is an amazingly generous package, transforming many of the core mechanics of a game that people have been playing, in one form or another, for nearly a decade now with seeming ease. Most especially, the addition of 17 variant “Tainted” characters—one for each of the game’s extant fighters, and each radically different from anything that’s come before—is a profound claim of new territory for a game that had previously felt thoroughly explored. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and its absence from our rankings is an obvious and damning indictment of me, both as an editor of lists that are published on the internet, and as a human being.
Meanwhile, many other “Wow, I blew it” titles can be pulled from the archives of the last six months of WAYPTW and our Twitch streams, from the engaging platforming action of Cyber Shadow, to the hands-off apocalypse management of Loop Hero, to Wadjet Eye’s gorgeously horrifying adventure title Strangeland. Each of these independently published gems deserves at least an honorable mention, with each having a laser-precise aesthetic, and showing top-of-class innovation in their individual fields.
But don’t worry: I’m also kicking myself for at least one exclusion from the world of big studio games, because what else are we to make of a “Best Of 2021 Part 1” list that doesn’t include Ratchet And Clank: Rift Apart? Insomniac’s return to one of its classic franchises is bright, quick-moving, and a great showcase for the PlayStation 5's hardware chops. (Is it a little reminiscent of pretty much every other Ratchet And Clank game? Sure. But that also makes it a welcome return to form.) And can we really trust any purported “Best Of” list that doesn’t include Nier: Replicant? Yes, we can; Nier: Replicant is not a good video game, and its exclusion from our list is a reflection of that simple fact.
All that other stuff stings, though; it’s been a quiet year for games, overall, but the highs have been extremely high.