2021 was a big year for video games.

As the resident gamers in the Thirst team, your boys Gabriel and Lang thought we’d share what the standout games of the year were to us in line with The Game Awards today.

We’re obviously very highly qualified in doing so. Lang runs Christian gaming ministry God and Games while I like playing games. And with gaming experience of more than 50 years combined to our names, the opinions on the following games should be sound (no promises!):

  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Resident Evil 2, 3, 7, 8 (and some Doom Eternal!)
  • Forza Horizon 5
  • God of War
  • Ghosts of Tsushima

Beware, spoilers ahead! Now, without further adieu, in no order of significance…

RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2

GABRIEL: When I first upgraded my PC, I knew this was a game I would have to get.

See, it is rare for gamers to agree on anything, so it says something that the general consensus on Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) is nearly universally positive.

Having finally finished the game last month, I can attest that the 2018 epic Western is indeed a landmark in gaming and a masterpiece.

You play as Arthur Morgan, a vicious but morally conflicted outlaw in the Van der Linde gang, fresh on the run from the authorities after a failed robbery in 1889 in the town of Blackwater.

Spoilers ahead, but the story sees the gang constantly on the run, leaving a trail of violence along the towns they pass through, all while tensions grow in the gang concerning charismatic leader Dutch van Der Linde’s increasingly questionable ethics and decision making.

On one of the game’s missions, after nearly beating a man to death for debt money, Arthur contracts tuberculosis from his victim.

The chapters that follow see the burly outlaw having to face down his own mortality.

“I guess I’m afraid,” confides a dying Arthur to a nun he’s helped along his journey.
“There is nothing to be afraid of, Mr Morgan,” affirms Sister Calderón. “Take a gamble that love exists, and do a loving act.”

From interactions like these, Arthur grows in clarity about what is important and challenges – depending on if the player chooses to help or harm the world around them – the mindsets and actions of the gang, urging them to go straight and do what is right.

It was a surprising tangent I hadn’t expected from a grim gun-toting Western, but one that made for a poignant reminder to see life as it really should be — a brief window of time for kindness and doing good.

RESIDENT EVIL 2 & RESIDENT EVIL 3

GABRIEL: Strangely enough, even though I had a PlayStation as a child in the 1990s and 2000s, I never got the chance to play the Resident Evil games. Just never happened.

So when I realised there was a remake of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 on Steam, and that they were bundled together in a sale, I jumped right in with little idea of what to expect.

What I found was a survival game filled with brilliant puzzles between corridors and rooms that dripped with dread.

Resident Evil 2 drops you right into the beginning of a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City.

You play either as protagonist Claire Redfield, a college student who is looking for her police officer brother, Chris, in town, or Leon Kennedy, a police officer who seems to have picked the worst possible day to start his job.

Players experience the events of the Raccoon City outbreak from either protagonist’s point of view, as their paths intertwine, unfolding the tale of how the zombies came to be.

What I liked about Resident Evil 2 was that this explanation was not spiritual or supernatural.

Plant spores in a laboratory are the culprit here; a product of unethical scientific experiments gone awry. That said, it doesn’t make the game family friendly. It is certainly violent, though you could skip the cutscenes.

I finished both campaigns in roughly two weekends (you can speedrun these if you’re up for it) and thoroughly enjoyed my time.

I particularly liked the feeling of progression. I began as a wimp who barely dared to step forwards in the police station, but by about midway through the game, armed to the teeth, I was always the scariest thing in the room.

Now, I was going to play Resident Evil 3, but decided to take a break with Doom Eternal, a first-person shooter roundly praised by critics and gamers alike.

But as I ripped and tore through hordes of demons, a nagging feeling began to grow in my mind that these games I was consuming were not good for me.

I put that feeling aside, and played on until I reached nearly the end of Doom Eternal’s main campaign.

By then, however, I realised I was going against my conscience and what God was telling me, which was to play something that wouldn’t defile me.

So I just took the L and removed Doom Eternal from my library. Resident Evil 3 and Resident Evil Village soon followed after. That’s a loss of about nearly $100 but I took it as a lesson in purity.

This was a significant experience for me as a gamer, because I could see that while these were good games for other gamers, they now aren’t for me – and that’s okay!

FORZA HORIZON 5

GABRIEL: Fresh from having completed Hot Wheels: Unleashed (and finally achieving my goal of obtaining the Street Wiener so I can soar in the air as a hotdog at over 300km/h), I was in the mood for a more serious racer.

That was exactly why I picked up Forza Horizon 5 (FH5), an open-world racer that lets me burn rubber at over 300km/h through the roads, hills and dusty dunes of FH5’s latest setting, Mexico. Super serious indeed.

With FH5, I did something I almost never do – pick up a game at full price. But I have to say, it turned out to be worth it.

With nearly 550 licensed cars, complete freedom to attempt a plethora of activities, and all manner of races from off-road rallies to drafting around in hypercars, it’s been nothing short of an absolute paradise and playground for gearheads.

You can drift down winding mountain roads in an AE86. Drag race on an airstrip in a Koenigsegg Jesko. Do stunts in a Hoonigan RS200. Tune your ’65 VW Beetle. Or just drive around and take photos — anything goes as long as you’re having a good time.

I also think it’s also the perfect game to play while listening to a Podcast.

But as someone new to the Forza Horizon series, something else that really stood out to me was the game’s impossibly upbeat vibe.

Everywhere you go, people address you as “superstar”. Everyone from the race hosts to the audience are having the time of their lives watching the races. It’s the Horizon Festival, and everyone’s ecstatic.

There are only smiles with this game. Seriously, like, you’re rewarded for every little thing you do. Clean race? Points. Mow down dozens of cacti (by accident)? Points.

Literally, no one is allowed to have a bad time in this version of Mexico. And having watched season 3 of Narcos: Mexico during my playthrough, the Mexico of Forza Horizon 5 stands in stark and total contrast.

It made me imagine Mexico if it was renewed. Like heaven and earth renewed. Someday, we’ll see just that — only Christ will be the superstar everyone’s cheering on in a paradisiacal festival of praise and passion. Vámonos!

RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE

LANG: I have a confession to make: I’ve never finished a horror game on my own before. I get too easily freaked out. Same goes for horror movies. I can’t watch them alone.

But the critical acclaim surrounding the latest instalment of the long-running Resident Evil franchise encouraged me to try again. I also wanted to know if I had grown as a person since my last (failed) attempt at playing Village’s prequel, Resident Evil 7.

I’m glad I did. I managed to power through Resident Evil 7 and finish Resident Evil Village in a couple of sittings.

All. By. Myself. So what changed?

I’m now a husband and a father.

This meant that I could identify with the protagonist of the two games, Ethan Winters. In the first game, he needed to find and rescue his wife, Mia. In the second, his goal was to find and rescue his daughter, Rose.

While Ethan starts off in both games as a captive himself, there comes a point in both games where Ethan could have just abandoned his quest and walked away from all the monsters, mutilations and madness.

Instead, he presses on for the sake of his wife and daughter.

Throughout my playthrough, I kept asking myself: “If I were in Ethan’s shoes, would I have continued to subject myself to all that horror to rescue the ones I love?”

Honestly, I’m not sure. I mean, he goes through some pretty horrible stuff in the game like getting his hand cut off, swimming through sewers infested with corpses, fending off vampires and much, much more.

But at the very least, I can say that I finished both games because I pictured my own wife and daughter in trouble (please don’t laugh at me), and pressed on because their lives are more important than mine.

It really made me meditate on 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

GOD OF WAR (2018) 

LANG: Yes, I know I’m late to the party. I’ve avoided previous God of War entries because of the gratuitous violence and occasional nudity, but I heard that this latest entry was a fresh and more mature take on our resident Greek god Kratos’ journey.

Also, I never had a PS4 until recently. I’m happy to report that this soft-reboot of the franchise is all it’s cracked up to be.

As someone who’s been gaming since the late 80’s (I’m old), I can’t argue with the recent IGN poll that named this game as the best game of all time. It’s that good.

Before talking about the story, here are some screenshots I took while playing.

Isn’t the game absolutely gorgeous?

Story-wise, I feel that this game, along with The Last of Us, marks a decade where gaming really grew up. After all, the average gamer is now a 34-year-old guy with a house and kids.

God of War starts off with Kratos, together with his son Atreus, cremating his wife, Faye somewhere in ancient Scandinavia. They then go on a journey to fulfill her last wish: to scatter her ashes on top of the realm’s highest mountain.

Woven through all the hacking and slashing is a story about coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, and Kratos learning what it means to be a father.

More specifically, Kratos grapples with the fear that the sins he has committed in his life thus far will pass on to his son, Atreus.

Throughout the game, Kratos tries his best to keep the details of his past life from his son.

In past games, Kratos was guilty of genocide, fratricide and patricide. In short, he was very angry and killed a lot of people. Family members included.

He now sees some of his rage in his son, and does his best to steer his son away from the path of vengeance.

He also sees how the sins of other fathers in the game, namely Odin and Thor, affect their children.

Kratos’ hope for his son is a hope that all parents share for their children: that their children will be better than they are.

His fear is a fear that all parents share as well: that their children might commit the same mistakes they did.

Are we doomed to pay for the mistakes of our parents? Are we doomed to make the same mistakes they did? And are those who come after us doomed to pay for our sins?

The concept of “Generational Sin” or “Sins of the Father” can be found in most religions. Exodus 20:5-6, 34:6-7 and Leviticus 26:39 and the fall of Adam and Eve suggest that this is consistent with a Biblical worldview.

But thankfully, our God is a merciful and forgiving God! He longs for people to turn to Him so that generational curses can be broken and for subsequent generations to experience blessing instead.

When we believe in Jesus, we also believe that He bore all of our curses as He hung on the cross (Galatians 3:13).

The sequel to God of War, God of War: Ragnarok, is coming out in 2022. We don’t know for sure how Atreus will turn out, but I’ll be rooting for Kratos. I’m hoping he’ll go on to see his son be a better man than he was.

Because that’s my prayer for my daughter as well.

GHOST OF TSUSHIMA

LANG: Final confession: I don’t like open-world games.

Things that are usually advertised as features, like scores of activities to do and trophies to collect, bug me to no end.

Maybe it’s my ADHD. I get easily overwhelmed. I prefer games that tell me what to do and where to go next.

Maybe I’m in love with the idea of Bushido: a samurai’s moral code which is regarded as more important than life itself. But I think I’m also fascinated by the struggle to still uphold Bushido in the face of globalisation and industrialisation.

When the open carry of katanas was banned during the Meiji era, could a swordless samurai still call himself a samurai?

This tension between the old ways and the new is at the centre of Ghost of Tsushima’s narrative and gameplay.

When the Mongolian army invades the Japanese Island of Tsushima, the defending samurai are totally overwhelmed by the Mongolians’ brutal tactics and disregard for ‘honourable combat’. The game’s protagonist, Jin Sakai, survives the initial wave of assault and must decide how to form a local resistance and push the invaders back.

Clearly outnumbered, should Jin resort to guerrilla tactics that resemble the underhanded ways of the ninja? Or is preserving Bushido by fighting head-on more important than the survival of the island itself?

In other words, how important is it to hold on to our traditions as we see them become less effective in achieving our goals?

The game’s narrative didn’t give me any easy answers. Time and again, I marvelled at the beauty of the island itself and the traditions of its inhabitants. I also got a sense of satisfaction when I “honourably” took on an enemy camp head-on, openly challenging the invaders to duels in spite of their numerical advantage.

But there came certain points in the game where I needed to take the less traditional approach when the lives of the islanders were at stake. I skulked in the shadows and backstabbed my way to victory.

Which approach was justified? The game doesn’t try to cheaply resolve this tension.

 

And I think that’s a good thing.

As someone who has spent time in both traditional and modern churches, I’ve found that the tension between keeping church traditions and embracing new ways of doing church is real.

There is so much beauty in old hymns. So much wisdom in the old writings of people like St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. I love going to cathedrals and churches alone to pray in their old, beautiful sanctuaries.

But it’s no secret that many older churches are losing relevance with the younger generation. The old ways of evangelism seem to be becoming less and less effective.

How can the Church embrace new ways of preaching the Gospel without letting go of her beautiful traditions and wisdom? I believe that successfully navigating this tension is the key to seeing revival in our land.

All images, except those from Resident Evil Village and Ghost of Tsushima, are screenshots from the authors’ playthroughs.

THINK + TALK
  1. What were your favourite games of 2021? We’d love to know in the comments, especially on the Telegram channel. Just warn if you’re discussing spoilers!
  2. What is one thing you’ve learnt from a video game that’s always stuck with you?
  3. Send this article on to a gamer you know!