2016 Review Part 1: The Year In Games

2016 was a terrible year all things considered. Horrific terrorist attacks continued as did the refugee crisis with no sign of stopping. The people of Britain were lied to and convinced that stabbing themselves in the foot was a good idea, by people who weren’t even competent enough to utilise the opportunities for self-advancement and backstabbing that they had tanked the economy of an entire country to create. In America, a somehow successful minority of people voted for a flighty egomaniac who has since sold out on any redeeming ideas he may have had and seems set to leave what was once the world’s great superpower as a hollowed out husk picked clean by millionaires and racists and the world in general even more screwed regarding climate change. It’s hard not to feel as if everything good about the world, the systems of checks and balances that are supposed to ensure some degree of fairness, the positive legacies of those who came before and any belief that people aren’t just spiteful monsters all took a hit this year, one they might never truly recover from.

But, y’know, at least it was good year for games, I suppose.

Yes, that’s right, it was, let’s focus on that. As before, games I’ve actually played are in bold

It was excellent year for people tired of waiting for things. This Christmas, the long awaited The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV were released, both to broad acclaim, though some found the former in particular to be frustrating at times. Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky was also released, to an admittedly very mixed response. It will be interesting to see whether No Man’s Sky has an effect on how games are discussed in the future, it’s hard to argue that the developer’s vague promoting of the game, in a way intended to build excitement, wonder and hype rather than to inform, created a titan of a game in the minds of players, one that the finished product could not, and was never intended to match up to. Going further back The Witness by Braid’s Jonathan Blow was released and managed to wring an impressive amounts of ideas from simple maze puzzles, all presented in accordance with a “show don’t tell” design philosophy that was in a way as interesting as the puzzles themselves. Inside, the latest from Playdead, developers of Limbo, wasn’t in development for quite as long some of the above, but won over a lot of fans, clinching many game of the year recommendations.

It was a strong year for indie games on the whole. Firewatch, a game I can’t talk about because I’ve been steadfastly avoiding spoilers, was very well received. Superhot and Stardew Valley similarly developed ardent followings. Released early in the year, Pony Island was quite successful, expect more thoughts on this one soon.

Fans of games that came out a few years or so ago were not be disappointed with the release of The Bioshock Collection, Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience, The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess Remastered, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Game Of The Year Edition and Ratchet and Clank. A nostalgic look into the classics of the past is understandable when the present is one disaster after another and the future looks to be unrelentingly grim. Here in Ireland we had a month in which we had no government until a coalition was put together who proved to be just as incapable of actually doing anything at all as all the inert bodies we’ve had in the past. Well that’s not entirely true, when they found out that their pals at Apple might have to actually-

­-sorry, sorry, back to games, back to the good stuff.

One of the nice to things to see about this year’s releases was that, in spite of all the re-releases above, there was still some new and fledgling IP activity in the AAA sector. Overwatch was the breakthrough hit of the year (insomuch as a game backed by the Blizzard marketing juggernaut can be described as having anything to break through). Dishonored 2 was critically well received, though sadly didn’t perform as well as its predecessor. With Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft appeared to have learned a lot from the previous entry, though it did not surpass it in sales, at least at time of release. Mafia III, another open-world game which I would also call a developing franchise, looks good too. Titanfall was another hit with the critics, although sadly it too sold poorly. Tom Clancy’s The Division, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and Quantum Break were also released and received a favourable response, however Battleborn and Re-core appear to have flown in under the radar.

Staying in AAA land this year saw the final Dark Souls game released. The Uncharted and Gears of War franchises both came back for fresh instalments having previously said they’d closed the book. Capcom had a bit of trouble, Street Fighter V seems to have failed the landing while Dead Rising 4 doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact. Arguably two of the biggest titles of the year were Hitman 2016 Return Of The Hitman and Doom, both regarded as surprisingly excellent returns from two of gaming’s old guard. Hitman 2016 Back In The Saddle in particular is widely regarded as having taken the at times controversial episodic release model and making a genuine asset of it.

Nintendo had an extremely mixed year. On the one hand, Pokémon GO was the game of the summer, a phenomenon that went beyond “traditional gamers”, beyond habitual mobile gamers and was almost inescapable for a few weeks. I of course didn’t play it, because I’m really quite bad at this “keeping with the times” stuff. Pokémon Sun and Moon also cleaned up on 3DS and the new Phoenix Wright, Fire Emblem and Monster Hunter entries got a lot of praise. On the other hand, it was a weak year for the Wii U, with a lukewarm response to Star Fox Zero and Paper Mario Colour Splash. The Nintendo Switch announcement essentially confirmed that the Wii U is dead in the water, with the only exciting prospect on the horizon being The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In a similar way the announcement of Steve Bannon as a major player in Trump’s administration essentially confirmed that truth and decency are dead in the wa-

sorry, back on topic.

My hazy feeling for the current zeitgeist is that Call of Duty, the titan of shooters may be crumbling, the continued focus on futuristic technology driving some players away while Battlefield 1: We Don’t Know How To Title Things Sensibly went back to World War 1 for some historical combat and poorly conceived social media campaigns. More on this story as soon as I care.

I’ll finish up with Virtual Reality, perhaps the biggest shake up this year. Sadly, I’m even less qualified to talk about this area than all the other things I pretend to know about, VR being a very personal experience. There are niggling doubts about nausea and personally I can’t see parents ever getting behind the idea of their kids being so cut off, but time will tell. It is, after all, a really interesting concept.

All in all, another good year in terms of quality, despite the worries about declining sales alluded to earlier.

I’d like to get sincere for a moment and clarify that I meant everything I said about 2016 being awful. However, I am aware that I was invoking things that have, are and will continue to drastically affect the lives of other people far more than they will ever affect me, mostly as the set-up to a joke. I also didn’t dwell on the subject of terrorism due to it being even bleaker than the other areas. Maybe I’m over thinking this or maybe this has all been a little crass. In any case, here’s one of the many threads on good things that happened this year to try and end on a positive note.

 

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