I am genuinely surprised by my honourable mentions list this year. Usually it is comprised of games that I liked but were disappointed with. Such as Cyberpunk 2077 last year or Phoenix Point the year before. This year my list is comprised solely of games that are better than I expected them to be. Sure they still got repetitive or dull near the end but my first impressions were surprisingly good. I wouldn't be shocked if anyone told me one of these games was in their top 3 of the year.
Back 4 Blood
It's hard to believe that it has been 13 years since the release of Left 4 Dead and we're only now receiving a true spiritual successor to it in the form of Back 4 Blood. Unfortunately in those 13 years the concept of player progression has become a staple of all multiplayer games and Back 4 Blood could not escape it. Gone are the days where only shooting prowess and teamwork were all that was needed to make it through the hardest difficulties. In Back 4 Blood you earn cards which you form into a deck of 15 that you use to empower your character. If you don't have a deck of powerful cards good luck going beyond the easiest difficulty.
I played with three other people where we were constantly talking on Discord and we had a lot of fun beating the game on recruit (the easiest difficulty). We then tried to play just the first level on veteran (the second of three difficulties) and failed miserably. So we just went back to recruit and played through the game a couple more times. After about 25 hours of Back 4 Blood we are probably done with the game. We have little interest in trying veteran difficulty again because the dependency on a good deck of cards killed most of our excitement. That being said we all still enjoyed our time with the game and would recommend it to anyone looking for a cooperative shooter.
Twelve Minutes is a game that I think everyone will enjoy for the first hour or two. But it will be hit-or-miss if you're able to see it through to the end. Like point-and-click adventure games from the 80s, you are most likely going to find yourself stuck at some moment and resort to trying absolutely random things to make progress. It took me just short of two hours to experience this myself which significantly dampened my excitement because I spent the next hour just banging my head against the wall. But when I came out on the other side I really did enjoy how the game ended. It is very well written and the voice acting sells the story. It's hard for me to say if this is worth $20 USD since I got it for "free" on Xbox Game Pass, but Twelve Minutes exceeded my expectations.
Age of Empires IV
It has been 14 years since I last played an Age of Empires game so I was prepared for Age of Empires IV to miss the mark. I figured the developers would try to "evolve" the real-time strategy genre and remove what made Age of Empires enjoyable. Or hell, maybe even I outgrew what I thought made Age of Empires enjoyable. I'm somewhat happy to say that Age of Empires IV is basically just a prettier version of an Age of Empires game from 2007. I'm sure for some people they may not be enough, especially if they paid $60 USD for it. But since I got this through Xbox Game Pass I was completely satisfied with what I played. I took a little over 20 hours to get through the campaigns and then uninstalled it.
Orcs Must Die! 3
Orcs Must Die! 3 is another entry in the series with basically no real changes so you're either gonna love it or hate it. I was really in the mood for a tower defence game so the first 10 hours of Orcs Must Die! 3 was super fun. Things started to peter out when I tried to 5 skull all of the levels and had to focus on finding cheese tactics to beat them. But for $30 CAD I easily got my monies worth and if you're in the mood for a solid tower defence game I think you'll get your monies worth too.
Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat
Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat is an Apple Arcade release of the popular Taiko no Tatsujin series. It's has more features than I would expect for a mobile port but the controls on the iPhone were far too clunky for me. If I was going to play more of this I'd use a controller and if I'm going to take the time to get out of a controller for a rhythm game I'd probably just play a more complex one on my computer.#GamesOfTheYear