Look, everyone does a game of the year thing these days. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you should totally jump on the bandwagon. There wouldn’t be a bandwagon if it wasn’t worth it! So here’s me, joining the party this year with 5 games that I totally think are worth your time this year.
Usual rules apply. One game per series (which is pretty easy to stick to here), and games that I’ve played. My opinion and my opinion only and all that. Before starting though, here’s a couple of disappointments. Games that I would have thought a little while ago would have been a shoe-in for this list until I actually played them. Gears of War 4 is something I was looking forward to being a fan of the series, but it just didn’t hit the mark for me. I think its time has passed, and other games have very much surpassed it. Virginia was the other disappointment. It looked like a Twin Peaks inspired Firewatch, but I couldn’t have been more let down. A story line I couldn’t begin to follow (even more so than Twin Peaks itself!), next to no interaction, and silent characters who made the plot even harder to understand. I can’t abide it in games when a character has worked something out that’s relevant to the plot, but what they worked out isn’t communicated to the player. Anyway, enough moaning, on with the cream of the crop!
Layers of Fear
Starting off with something nice and festive here. Layers of Fear was a really interesting horror game released fully in February. Rather than being full of jump scares and “scary” monsters, this one plays with your perception of reality. As a troubled artist, you return to your family home to complete your masterpiece and in doing so travel through a nightmare fueled memory of your past to gather what you need to complete it.
The story is quite engaging as the bizarre images hint at the madness that happened here in the past. The house changes when you aren’t looking which leads to some interesting puzzles as doors appear where there was a fireplace before, and disturbing child-like sketches appear on walls behind you. Whilst there is some light puzzle solving, this would come under “walking simulator”, so if that sort of thing puts you off then this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a unique horror experience, give it a shot. Don’t bother with the DLC though, it really didn’t add anything of value.
I was torn between this game and one that will crop up later on for my favourite game of the year. I was rather apprehensive for a DOOM remake, as I’m sure many other were. But id knocked it out of the park with this one, it took what made the original game fun and modernised it without giving into the temptation of applying modern FPS tropes. No regenerating health here. Only being allowed to carry 2 weapons? No, sir! Press F to pay respects can stay where you left it.We’ve got fast paced, gorgeous looking one man warfare against the forces of hell.
Pretty much the only nod to modern gaming sensibilities is the glory kill system for executing weakened enemies, but even that serves a purpose in terms of gameplay. The story, whilst simplistic, is told well. This is an example of a game that does the silent protagonist well; everything the Doom marine does presents him as someone who doesn’t care what is going on. He exists to kill hellspawn, and nothing is going to slow him down. Crucially, the game is mechanically excellent. Everything feels sharp and fun to use with a movement system that makes traversal and combat fun but also lets you use glory kills in different ways. Typing this makes me want to play it again.
If you’ve seen my Facebook profile before, you may be aware that I love XCOM. From the original game way back when, to the remakes in recent years. I even liked XCOM: Interceptor, the space combat/base management fusion game. The 2012 remake was fantastic and I poured a lot of hours into it, so it should be no surprise that I was very happy to see a follow up. Interestingly, this game assumed you failed to finish the original (which was pretty hard) and the aliens took over the world. You now lead a guerilla fighting force, developing weapons to take the fight to the aliens and reclaim Earth.
Annoyingly it didn’t have the best initial release, with there being framerate issues, but a few updates later and it became a lot more stable. The game itself is as good as before, with some new features including new units, weapons and mission types. The enemies are smarter and more varied (the terror mission shapeshifting creatures are evil!) demanding new strategies to defeat. A great addition is the concealment and ambush feature. Being as you are a secretive rebel force, you start most missions in hiding which allows you to set up the perfect ambush for enemy patrols. This makes the missions have a better balance than the previous game’s gradually inching forward, as you need to scout the area and plan your attack rather than try to trigger a group of enemies then hide and pick them off. I’ll probably do a fresh run of this game in the new year.
Another walking simulator I hear you cry? Yes, yes it is. Walking simulator has been used as an insult for this genre for various reasons. Normally that there isn’t much in the way of interaction. I agree with this in games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Virginia, in which the story happens to you and you just move the camera. Limited interactivity in a medium built on interactivity almost defeats the object of what you’re doing. Firewatch gets around that pretty well by allowing you to interact in a number of ways.
The story is gripping (although some felt the ending was a bit of a let down) as far as I’m concerned. Your relationship with your fellow ranger, who you communicate with through radio, is the real centre piece of the story. You will often be given options of what to say to her, which will change your relationship for better or worse. The way you approach certain situations will alter future moments in the game, and whilst those differences are only in the dialogue, the characters are so well written and acted that you will find yourself caring about how you are seen by others in the game world. It’s not a terribly long experience, but it’s one that has stuck with me since its release over 10 months ago.
The other game in the running for my favourite game of the year, and with damn good reason. I described this as near perfect a gaming experience. Everything in this game is expertly crafted, from the art style and animations, to the puzzles and overall atmosphere.
Playdead, who previously made Limbo, have outdone themselves here. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s also mechanically excellent. New ways of interacting with the world are introduced to you, but you won’t find any of them used over and over again to pad out the puzzles and game length. Mind controlling other characters happens a number of times, but never in the same way keeping the game fresh throughout its play length. The story is intriguing and open to interpretation, with a secret ending that makes you question everything you’ve experienced so far. I can’t overstate how excellent this game is. Go and play it.
Some other games I enjoyed this year. Pony Island was an interesting game about a satanic arcade game. Finishing it was certainly not the end of the story, and there are a lot of secrets to be found in this deceptively simplistic world. Oxenfree was fantastic as far as I’m concerned. Another walking simulator, but done in a different style with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and great story about coming to terms with loss. Dark Souls 3 was an excellent final entry in an excellent series. Horrifying bosses, exhilarating combat, and high challenge make this a satisfying experience for those willing to face its brutal world.
Oh, and Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.
Not a bad year for games all in all. Are there any from 2016 that you particularly enjoyed? Or am I flat out wrong? Let me know! And here’s to 2017! I’ll be taking a break for the Christmas holidays, so don’t expect much from me in the coming weeks. I’ll be back in the new year though, with plenty of words about games for your eyes to consume! See you then!