What a strange year for video games. A hastily-assembled, bandwagon-jumping mode for a failing game, Fortnite, became a cultural sensation that dominated the conversation in playgrounds and newsrooms. Rockstar returned from five years away with another vast and meticulous undertaking, no doubt expecting the plaudits and massive sales Red Dead Redemption 2 received, but perhaps unprepared for the pillorying it took for the working conditions under which the game was made. Bethesda Game Studios certainly seemed unprepared when it attempted to wrestle its already creaking and disobedient gaming framework into the online future with Fallout 76, and the resulting empty and malfunctioning game was met with flat-out rejection. EA rolled out another slick, warlike megaproduction, but had to hastily scale back Battlefield 5's marketing when it became apparent that nobody cared much.
Big games don't come about the way they used to, and we are starting to question the value system that has been constructed around them by their makers, their players and the press. The middle class of dependable genre pieces is on life support and the overcrowded digital storefronts shoulder as many brilliant indie games into instant obscurity as they manage to usher into the limelight. It feels like there are far too many games, and yet also not enough.
We could have leant into this with our choice of game of the year and picked a game that captured the zeitgeist and pointed the way to the future. (We very nearly did: see 'The other game of the year', below.) We could have picked one of those surviving bastions of Big Gaming, a God of War or a Red Dead, because the scale of craftsmanship they display is often extraordinary to behold, but our hearts wouldn't have been in it. These games stirred admiration in us, but not passion.
Instead, our choice for game of the year is a game to cut through all this noise and make a nonsense of all this talk. It's a game of utter purity, a contemporary take on a timeless classic, and a genuinely inspiring and uplifting experience. It doesn't care about the zeitgeist, because it is, in itself, the history and the future of video games rolled into one. It's Tetris Effect.
A master's best work
by Martin Robinson
First a small caveat; I'm something of a Tetsuya Mizuguchi fanboy, having fallen in love with the developer's work before I even knew who he was with Sega Rally, and having become completely besotted after playing his trance shooter Rez upon its release all those years ago. I'm probably even a professional stalker now, tracking him down on the eve of his return to games in 2014 and closely following everything he and his team at Enhance Games - and its associated satellite studios - have done since. What a joy it is to have them back.
As a keen student of Miz's work, then, when I say that Tetris Effect is his best yet, I don't say it lightly. This is one of those perfect marriages where both sides work in harmony to elevate one another, creating an irresistible whole: where the magic of Tetris is met with a deeply considered rhythm that sets you off into that famous flow state within seconds. Maybe that much should have been obvious from the start. Rez, as much as I adore it, takes the somewhat hokey on-rails shooter as its template, but here the building blocks being used add up to something much more profound, and something much more effective.
It makes for the perfect drug, basically, a warming dose of spiritual sedative that I've slipped back into more than any other game in 2018, ushering me off to a happy place as soon as those first tetrominoes begin to fall. I don't think gaming gets any purer than this, and I don't think many other games released this year will hold up to scrutiny in the future quite so well as this absolute masterpiece.
The game that always and never changes
by Christian Donlan
I don't wish to brag, but the council's been upgrading the sidewalk outside the Eurogamer office. For the last few weeks there have been drills and funny cart things filled with paving slabs and lots of people in high-viz jackets. More importantly, the route to our building has been constantly changing as the new sidewalk advances and these plastic gates shift around, creating new footfall flows across the street from the traffic lights and to our front door. A week or two ago I was in the middle of these plastic gates, freshly rearranged, and I almost gave up hope. There was our front door, but there was a brand new befuddlement standing between me and it.
I did get in, eventually. And perhaps the fleetness of my thinking - not that fleet, it took me about five minutes - is down to Tetris Effect. Tetris - and I have only just realised this, thinking about the game, about the flow of pieces, about the sidewalk outside our office - is above all else a dynamic game. It may be the most dynamic game! It is about movement, about change, about strata and geology and the way that a landscape can steadily become unrecognisable, oozing from one state to another, a tidal kind of process. Every now and then someone will make a fuss about the destructibility in their action game: you can pull down houses, you can drive through walls and smash apart trees. Tetris has been there long before you, however. It offered a shifting sense of surroundings years before we were talking about deformability in the context of open worlds.
Tetris Effect muddles things, I think. It offers Tetris variations branching off in all directions - the most dynamic game being sent dynamically through all these structural transformations - but it also suggests that there is something about Tetris that will never change. There is a core here that is classical, untouched by the slow silting up of features that have become part of the standard Tetris design, even, like hold and hard- and soft-drop.
A nice thought for the end of one year and the start of another, I think. Games will change, but they will also stay the same. So long as I can get to work and sit down to play them.
This game of life
by Wesley Yin-Poole
As I write this, there are 10 days left before 2018 sees itself out. So, what I have to say here about Tetris Effect is not without risk. I guess something life-affirming could happen in the next week to make me reconsider the year that's been. Perhaps David Bowie will come back to save us from ourselves. Reborn, Gandalf style, with a guitar slung over his back and a microphone in hand, Bowie crashes his rocket ship into the front door of Parliament, drenching the shitshow that calls it home in a shower of glitter and face paint.
Who am I kidding? Bowie isn't coming to save us. No-one is coming to save us. But at least I have Tetris Effect.
Tetris Effect grabbed us by the scruff of the neck and screamed, what the hell are you people playing at? The song that plays - no, that's not right, how about... the song we play as it plays us - in the very first level of Tetris Effect's remarkable campaign, is somehow aware of the self-destructive heel-turn society has decided to embark upon. "It's all connected / we're all together in this life / don't you forget it / we're all connected in this." I am bewildered to realise the most devastating takedown of 2018 came from a Tetris video game.
And yet, there is hope! As we hurtle towards the cliff-edge, our brakes busted (or perhaps we've stopped believing they work), Tetris Effect warms the soul. Its pulsating levels are not stationary - they transition, they evolve, they chart a journey. An endless migrant caravan makes its way across a desert before we're transported to the moon. We're swimming with the dolphins underwater, then we leap out towards salvation, flying with the birds. We're in a cold, dark forest, then the light comes up and birds start tweeting. Things can - they will! - get better. In just the second level, Tetris Effect offers us an olive branch: "Close your eyes so you see my vision / unite the souls so there's no division... Now open your eyes and you will see / I can lead you home, just follow me."
Tetris Effect makes me wonder whether 2018 had to happen before things get better. Maybe it's a bit like Avengers, and know-it-all Doctor Strange's mysterious involvement in the death of half of all life in the universe. "We embark on this ride to find out who we are," Tetris Effect declares. How can we live our best lives if we haven't lived our worst? "We are the light of hope / Like diamonds in the rough."
If only I could use Tetris Effect's new Zone mechanic, which lets you stop time and the tetrominoes falling, in real life. In the game, Zone helps you get out of a sticky situation that could otherwise lead to a game over. In the right hands, it helps you rack up extra line clears for bonus rewards. 2018 could really do with a Zone right now, couldn't it?
"How can we change the world / Change the world overnight / In this game of life / This game of life."
Tetris Effect's final level is also home to its best song. Here, Tetris issues the player a challenge:
"What could you be afraid of if I'm right here with you? / You know everything will change / Show me what you are made of 'cause I'm always with you / come on, we could leave today."
I don't know about you, but I'm up for it.