Well, this year was hellish in so many ways, wasn't it? But video game releases was not one of them (hurray!)
We may have lost our lord and saviour Ziggy Stardust (among many many others) but aliens have destroyed us yet - here's my list of games I played this year and enjoyed - in no particular order and not all from this year. At the end we'll have some bonus mentions of non gaming stuff..
Winner: Game most likely to be confused with Diablo but is probably better than Diablo 3.
It's been a while since I played the game - so excuse the vagueness from what I can remember.
From the makers of Titan Quest (via kickstarter) this long awaited arpg surprised me. I'd played the beta and hadn't been impressed with it but upon full release something clicked (and clicked and clicked and clicked and clicked) and I began to enjoy its take on loot hunting monster mashing. It's own twist is the dual class system that opens up at level 10 - allowing you to mix two classes together to become an omnipotent druid from hell..which was sadly the defacto class choice during my play time. There's also a sprinkling of Cthulhu nonsense which always helps...sadly the final boss was terrible but you can't have everything.
Winner: Best Soundtrack to play Dawn of War 2 and anything with SPAICEEE MAHRINES in.
Much has been written about Doom this year - a game that I think surprised everyone with how good it was and how, as a series, it is still relevant..unless you've played Brutal Doom and you kinda knew that anyway. Of the two FPS games I played this year for any significant time, I'd say Doom was the better of the two. However, it made me realise that I'm just not that interested in shooting people in the face anymore..if I ever was. I'll get into this more later..probably..but as someone who isn't a great fan of gratuitous violence (unless for comedy purposes - see Mortal Kombat) it begins to wear thin. As did the game - especially once the core combat loop of shoot, strafe, rip, tear, repeat began to be really really repetitive without a decent storyline driving it.
Don't get me wrong, it's a great game for what it is - one of the best of the year...but not for me.
Winner: I played Cloudbuilt with Optimus Prime award
The second FPS of the year. A fantastic parkour game with a subpar story and narrative that holds it back along with understandable but lackluster Mech combat. Just, for a second, imagine what they could have done with the 'Cause and Effect' mechanic if they hadn't been strapped to that boring narrative? The movement is so good, so very good. Add the smart pistol in and it's fun times all around - it's just everything else is kind of a bore. 'We gotta fight these guys because blah blah and they're created the death star so blah blah one shall stand one shall fall blah blah AMERICA FUCK YEAH blah blah" I get that it was a big thing to have a single player in the game given the original didn't so perhaps complaining about it's lackluster storyline is missing the point but..there it is.
Winner: Best use of Cantonese and worst use of Emma Stone
If someone asked me what the best game I played this year was, I'd tell them Sleeping Dogs. To quote my write up:
Infernal Affairs (fuck you Hollywood) is in my top 5 movies of all time, so it may come as no surprise that I loved this game. The story of an undercover cop rising through the ranks of the Sun On Yee (as opposed to the real Sun Yee On..see what they did there..oh and 14k instead of 18k ((or 24k but..well)) Multiple parentheses ftw) was gripping, amusing, dark and heartwarming all at the same time. Yeah it trod the well worn steps of most undercover movies...Donnie Brasco I'm looking at you...but the setting and writing overcame that.
Gameplay wise the mildly modified Arkham combat was fun as ever and didn't get boring. Driving was mildly loose but had enough of the guys who worked on Need For Speed to make it work, gun combat was meh. Graphics were good for an open world game and evoked Hong Kong well, Voice acting was superb throughout and the inclusion of Cantonese every so often was great.
My opinion hasn't changed, and if you happen to have an Xbone and XBL it's currently part of the GWG rotation so give it a shot. I'll be going back to finish off the DLC at some point.
Winner: Game with a terrible name that's actually really good.
If someone asked me what would be my GOTY that was..arguably..released this year I would say Rise of the Tomb Raider. A game I'm still playing through with all the DLC.
This is an odd one for me, due to the fact that I didn't enjoy the original games nor the reboot the first time I played it on PS3. However, coming back to the reboot on Xbone I really enjoyed my time with it - I'm not entirely sure why it clicked this time..but it did. Buying the sequel was inevitable..and I'm glad I did.
My god is this game beautiful, even on the Xbone. The windswept Siberian plateaus alone are worth the price of entry. The storyline is serviceable so far (I've also finished the Baba Yaga DLC which was well worth the pennies I paid for it) and Lara isn't intensely annoying, nor..thanks to the origin story being over..do we suffer from the usual dissonance of 'kill everything - but I'm just an archeology student'. That said..even though we're dealing with a secret organisation, where do they get all these men? Do they sign waivers? What about all their children? And why isn't there a single woman in the grunts so far? Questions questions..
Winner: Best time wasters when you should be doing something more productive on your tablet
Two Gacha games - Soccer Spirits is a Korean..err..card game where you play football with the car...hmm. It's anime space jam just 'Soccer' rather than Basketball. The drop rates are fair, there's a storyline which is visual novel esque and the game itself is fun. The waifu-laifu element of the game is a bit of a drag so YMMV.
Speaking of Waifu-Laifu - the ultimate in Waifus, Saber of Fate Stay Night (Rin best girl) returns in Fate Grand/Order...currently only available in Japan and China with no English translation. It's a typical RPG style game where you collect servants from random rolls on the gacha system and use them to walk through a very very very long story mode. It looks gorgeous and is easy to play without knowing a lick of Japanese. Both have had their time on my tablet, but thankfully I have better things to do now.
Winner: Game most likely to get you to join the Argonian freedom fighters or hit your download cap.
I have a problem with Bethesda games. Apart from the jank (the massive massive jank..I have to use mods just to be able to play a rereleased 5 year old game on my xbone to stop the bugs and crashes...literally wtf Bethesda?) I just find the worlds boring. Fallout being the worst offender. After Fallout 1&2 (two games I remember fondly) 3 was a travesty and New Vegas..well..they tried, I'll give them that. Elder Scrolls though..hmm..I've tried multiple times to get into the games. I own all of them and the amount of times of bounces of Morrowind would take fingers to count than I have. I'm currently reaching frustration point with Skryim on the Xbone..seriously who cares about going miles to shout at something, honestly..urgh.
That said..playing through the early levels of ESO actually gave me a feeling of place, of the problems faced by the competing races, my sympathy for the Argonians and the..err..Cat people. The betrayal by the Dark Elves (who need to be a bit more..err...Khainite for my liking...also Lizard mounts..yasss) and the machinations. It's good stuff. It's a shame that the combat and magic tree have been stunted so much compared to something like Skyrim or Oblivion. No bound weapons even..which to me is very sad. It also takes up 71gbs on my tiny tiny Xbone hard drive...which is ridiculous. Sigh.
Winner: Demos that will probably be better than the game.
Finally on the game side of things my two favourite demos of the year.
Resident Evil 7 is an odd one. Following from the popularity of PT was always going to be a dangerous gamble but for the most part this constantly updating demo manages to bring the survival back to the horror of Resi. I'm a bit standoffish when it comes to the possibility of 'ghosts' in a game that is very much based on crazy science rather than occult stuff. That would seem to undermine the placement of RE against the now dead Silent Hill. The first person aspect works well and I'm looking forward to playing the demo again..which is a good sign for the finished product.
Shadow Tactics is a different kettle of sushi. A return to the Commando school of tactical gameplay (real time, no pausing, lots of vision cones) this demo was awesome. I haven't finished it yet due to being so out of touch with that type of gameplay but I intend to return for the full game. We really need a Tenchu reboot.
Hard West - I need to go back and play some more, but I really enjoyed what I did play.
Destiny - While I enjoyed it when I was playing, time has mellowed me significantly on whether it was worth it at the time. Destiny 2 really needs to step up its game.
Battleborn - It's not Overwatch. It's not trying to be Overwatch. It never wanted to be Overwatch (unless you count how much money it wanted to make). It wants to be LoL...and for what it is I enjoyed it. It has a single player mode with the usual poor Gearbox humour that grates after 5 seconds. I really like some of the character designs (Deande especially) which is more than I can say about some other game that I won't mention. It's a shame that the people who worked so hard on this game were sacrificed to Pitchford's ego and Blizzard's behemoth.
Quantum Break: Urgh. Give me back my time MS please. A mess of a game that looks, at times, incredible..but falls apart everywhere else. I give them credit for trying something different but does anyone really want to sit through a TV show at the end of every level? Especially when the story was TERRIBLE? No..didn't think so.
Final Fantasy Explorers: Winner of worst game I had the misfortune to play this year. Lord of Arcana should have prepared me for how awful this game is. It has nothing...nadda. There's no weight to the combat, there's no roll or dodge, you can hammer a button and win. There's some depth in the crystal surge system and how that can mutate your skills but that's really not enough to keep me interested in this poor mans PSO. Just play Phantasy Star Nova instead if you can, or Monster Hunter...or God Eater or..yeah, you get the point.
And now for something a little different:
TV Show of the Year that was broadcast last year:
Nirvana in Fire
available at viki.com
Now..bare with me.
A Chinese (Mandarin) version of 'The Count of Monte Cristo', Nirvana in Fire is the best TV show I have ever seen. I don't say that lightly given my fondness of Twin Peaks and Sandbaggers...but, my god this thing is incredible. Based on a web novel this 54 part series tells the story of Lin Shu and his quest for justice following the death of his family and army 13 years previously. Saying any more would ruin the show but if anything it's worth watching for the costumes, intrigue and the acting.
The main actors all do incredible work but Hu Ge, the main character, is incredible. He is capable of implying so much by micro-expressions and the depth he brings to Lin Shu is something to behold. This was reinforced once we began watching The Disguiser where he is the lead again - and completely different. Oh and he sings the ending theme..which is incredible. It should also be noted that the relationships between the actors are rock solid - they all play off each other incredibly well. Shout out to Badass Commander Meng - forever known as Mengarrus as he is essentially Garrus in human form. He is the ultimate bro. Not sure if the West could handle the endings though..every Asian show I've watched this year (IRIS, Shanghai Bund, 3 Kingdoms etc) has not ended well...especially IRIS and Shanghai Bund..oh boy.
In short, if you're looking for a show that has beautiful scenery, amazing costumes, great character acting, fun martial arts sections, intrigue, murder, despair and little mystical nonsense that Wuxia stuff goes in for than NiF is perfect. It's the Chinese Game of Thrones if they spent more time thinking about plot and less time thinking about blood and tits.
Which brings me to talk about Westworld.
I found watching Westworld really tough after watching NiF (we actually generally watch just Chinese TV shows these days in my house - currently The Disguiser and When a Snail falls in Love...both of which are top tier TV as far as I'm concerned). I get what they're trying to do - spoiler it's Paradise Lost with robots and I like the way they're using tropes such as violence and nudity to play into that, so this isn't so much a criticism of Westworld rather than Western medi..hold on a second I see what they did there..but both NiF and the Disguiser (which have their own issues such as rampant Nationalism) don't need such graphic violence to tell a good story - in fact there's little bloody violence beyond the odd splash of blood even in full out war scenes. In Western media it just comes across as being gratuitous for the sake of driving ratings because who needs Colosseums any more right? Blood for the blood god..etc etc..or should that be bread and circuses? Hmm, I guess I'm rambling.
My point is that watching TV from other countries does rather open your eyes to different ways of telling stories that don't just devolve into the HBO mantra of 'plot tits tits blood tits tits tits plot' that seems to be creeping in everywhere..though that's still an improvement on Korea's 'spy action action 30 mins of romantic comedy action action stare out of a window while we watch flashback to romantic scene from 20 mins ago flashback action' that was Iris. Aiyaaa what a mess.
Secondary shout out to Aljazeera's The Listening Post - a weekly examination of the how the news is reported rather than the news itself. Well worth watching if you spend a lot of time wondering about how the media works and what is going on in other countries besides the US or Britain.
Rap Monster Mix Tape
Technically released last year but eh, who's counting. That's the whole album right there by the way - the track it's playing is 'Joke' and if you want to understand why I picked this as my album of the year..press play.
Namjoon don't know how to breath innit.
As I side note - I spent most of the last year producing a radio programme about Asian music - mostly focusing on Japanese and Korean pop though I did delve through Hip Hop, RnB, Indie, Metal, Rockabilly (Kimchibilly I shit you not) and other bits and pieces. Kpop is a really divisive thing..which I find odd given that it's essentially 90s American music. New Jack Swing is the defacto RnB groove of Korea and as someone who grew up during that period I'll take Zion T, Crush and Dean over modern American stuff thanks. The growing popularity of EXO and BTS in Western countries will be interesting to watch..and hopefully CL can go back to being queen rather than whatever the hell that 'Lifted' track was...maybe the West isn't really ready for her yet?
I'll leave you with CL herself and the wish that we all have a far better year next year. Please...pleeease.