By Samcb 0 Comments
Hey y'all, it's been a while. Decided to put some of my thoughts on this year's games into a video! Hope you all enjoy:
Hey y'all, it's been a while. Decided to put some of my thoughts on this year's games into a video! Hope you all enjoy:
I'm gonna spare you all more talk about how garbage this year was for everything besides games and just get to the list. At least you get to murder nazis in video games.
I spent some time this summer getting intimate with the original Evil Within (at the behest of those with my best interests in mind). It’s a messy, weird game that poses a few cool ideas, but it gets bogged down in repetitive combat encounters, dull world design, and a story that feels like it’s trying to establish a franchise’s worth of history in a single game. It was frustrating, because there were these brief flashes of something much better in its unique monsters and surreal horror roots.
The Evil Within 2 is everything that game should’ve been. Opening up the world turns combat into what’s essentially a better version of The Last of Us's combat with more traps. The story dials it back on the info dumps and focuses more on its characters, which gives it a grounding that makes the bizarre horror more effective. Most importantly, it leans into the potential weirdness of its concept, instead of setting everything in a bland European countryside that looks like it’s built out of assets from Resident Evil 4.
The Evil Within 2 isn’t perfect, but it’s got charm. It does enough things that most horror games don’t nowadays, and does them well enough, that it’s worth getting excited about.
The Zelda series has always been more about atmosphere and sense of place than about game mechanics for me. It’s why Twilight Princess is still my favorite. It was one of the first games that made me feel like I was on some grand adventure, the chosen one destined to save the world from a great evil threatening my friends and family. If that Link was the chosen one, Breath of the Wild’s is some jackass who eats rocks and keeps drowning five feet from shore.
Breath of the Wild’s antagonistic in ways that few open world games dare to be. I’d heard comparisons to Far Cry because of the towers and enemy camps, but to me it’s like Far Cry because I’m constantly running around like my hair’s on fire. Sometimes it literally is. Nintendo’s knack for intricate and intuitive game systems turns this Hyrule into a chaotic Thunderdome where 40 different layers of game mechanics are always coming into play, and could either help or betray you at any given moment. It revels in this chaos in a way that reminds me of Hitman at some points.
While the aesthetic and atmosphere fell a little flat for my personal taste, the sense of place here is really something special. There are plenty of open world games where you become familiar with the setting by memorizing locations and optimal paths, but the familiarity I have with Breath of the Wild’s open world feels like I’m living on the back of some omnipotent being that’s making me dance for its amusement. Ganon isn’t the villain in Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is.
Splatoon 2 is a game where you get to wear knockoff Jordans and shoot each other with paint while a bunch of sea creatures freak out on ska drums in the background. I’m not really sure what else I need to say about this one.
While it doesn’t feel like a major step up from the original besides some minor improvements, that original game still takes place in my favorite world Nintendo’s ever built. I want to know everything about this strange, Jet Set Radio-esque squid world and the culture that inhabits it. This game’s sense of style has every bit of Nintendo’s usual level of polish and care, but applied to sweet guitar riffs and wide, sickeningly saturated color palettes.
I wish the single player was more involved, and I wish I didn’t have to thumb through so much entry dialogue every time I start the game up, but I can deal with the minor nitpicks if it means I can dive headfirst into this world any time I want.
After finishing Super Mario Odyssey, I realized I haven’t really been satisfied with the past few 3D Mario titles. 3D World was great, and I’d love to see more of it, but it also felt like a lightly expanded New Super Mario Bros. game. Galaxy 1 and 2 were fully fledged, mechanically inspired 3D Mario games, but the complete linearity of the worlds and objectives didn’t capture what made 64 special to me. I wanted to collect stars, not just beat levels.
Odyssey scratches this itch better than any game in the series. The idea of picking up moons all over the place was concerning to me at first. It’s gonna lack a sense of accomplishment if you’re doing it every couple minutes, right? Odyssey addresses this by building the satisfaction into the game mechanics and levels themselves. I didn’t go out of my way to get all the bonus moons because I wanted the number to go up, I did it because every single one feels like something that would've been fun to do anyways. Except that last level.
Sure, it’s a collectathon, but it’s the best damn collectathon I’ve ever played.
Sure, it kinda falls apart in the second half, and it’s not as much of a clean break from series continuity as I’d hoped, but when Resident Evil 7 is firing at all cylinders, it’s one of the best horror games in decades.
The grimy, Texas Chainsaw Massacre setting The grindhouse vibe is a genius marriage of legitimate horror and the series’ trademark camp in a way that doesn’t feel forced or out of place. The cannibalistic Baker family had me laughing out loud more than just about any other game this year. Almost enough to forgive them for burning me alive that one time.
I’ve probably watched people play the first hour of this game at least a dozen times at this point, and it never gets old. I do understand some of the disappointment that the entire game doesn’t hit as hard as that opening, I was glad to have some downtime to explore the mansion in between my run-ins with its inhabitants.
If Resident Evil 7 had stuck the landing and had enough confidence to fully explore its new ideas without falling back on series mainstays, it would probably be higher on this list. That said, if Capcom learns from this game’s shortcomings, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Sure, it’s this big, dumb, loud thing that has zero subtlety and is maybe a bit too hasty to make jokes, but Wolfenstein II hits hard. There’s a stretch somewhere around the halfway mark that just keeps getting crazier and crazier in ways I just couldn’t believe. Only one other game this year left me in front of my computer with my mouth agape more often than Wolfenstein II did.
I played and loved The New Order, so I knew to expect completely ridiculous plot developments and broad swings in tone handled with more grace than most films. What I didn’t expect was the immense amount of love and respect for its characters that radiates through every interaction in this game. It’s not just the jokes and action sequences, either.
Wolfenstein II’s cast thrives in the quiet moments, like just walking around the U-boat and listening to the idle conversations. There was an encounter with Wyatt late in the game that started off silly, but ended up touching me more than it probably should have (the conversation that ends with “I love you, man”). I got attached to this ragtag band of Nazi murderers in a way I haven’t felt since the Normandy crew in Mass Effect 2. Plus, I even thought the combat was alright!
A million deaths outside the play zone and bad loot drops can’t undermine how unbelievably satisfying it feels just to kill another player, though. I’ve spent some time in elimination style shooters like Counter Strike, and sure, they’ve all had their share of intense moments. Battlegrounds though, by way of match pacing and just the right amount of random chance, manages to capture more intensity on a near constant basis than even the highest stakes match in any other shooter.
I don’t really get scared by horror games any more. Every once in a while something gets to me, but this dumb tactical shooter manages to make my heart beat through my chest for 20 minutes any time I get into the top 5. The sensation that goes along with getting a chicken dinner is probably the greatest rush any game’s ever elicited from me. It’s often a frustrating mess and I don’t like the controls all that much, but there’s just no game in the world that makes me feel the way Battlegrounds does.
I haven’t been this conflicted about a game in a long time. Persona 5 bungles opportunities for character development constantly, parades around its morals without sticking to them half the time, and I think it still might be one of my favorite games ever made.
Every inch of this game oozes a style and confidence that should be overbearing or insufferable, but it all feels earned. Yes, the menus look great, and that soundtrack is absolutely ridiculous, but in the shift in scale from Persona 4, this game never loses the homey atmosphere that made that game so easy to sink a hundred of hours into. Even if the script doesn’t always focus on the main cast as much as I would’ve liked, their interpersonal relationships and genuine care for each other makes the Phantom Thieves feel like a family to me.
I admit I probably took longer than most people to beat the game, clocking in somewhere around 150 hours over a few months, but a part of me wishes it would’ve lasted longer. When the credits were over and the intro theme started playing again, it felt like something had been sucked out of me.
Persona 5 has more flaws than simply not living up to high expectations, but that city and that group of idiot teenagers were a part of my routine for a long time, and I’ll miss the hell out of them.
When I said there was only one game that made my jaw drop more than Wolfenstein II, I was talking about Danganronpa V3. It’s the third and (hopefully) final game in one of my favorite series ever, and I can’t imagine a better note to go out on. Like every other Danganronpa game, it’s hard to say much about this unique, bizarre, wonderful thing that wouldn’t ruin the fun for someone who hasn’t played it.
I went in expecting a return to basics after 2 messed with the continuity so much they had to make an anime to actually wrap things up. I was okay with that, honestly. I was just glad to have another subversive murder mystery that felt like the best aspects of Persona and Phoenix Wright mashed together. That was exactly what they wanted me to expect.
V3 feels like the culmination of the entire series, a game that plays on what you’ve grown to expect from the dozens of murder mysteries you’ve solved in the first two games (and yes, you should probably play the first two if you want to get anything out of this one). It somehow manages to feel like a love letter to what made the series so great while also making fun of itself as well as its own fanbase. Series cliches are turned on their head and played straight with just enough variance that you can genuinely never tell what to expect next, and that makes this one of the most routinely surprising and fun mysteries I’ve ever experienced.
The cast is more of a slow burn than 2, which was almost entirely likeable from the jump. I didn’t really dislike anyone, but there were a few characters I felt completely indifferent about. Once the murders start happening and the cast starts to dwindle, though, I ended up rooting for the remaining survivors harder than anyone else in the series. Towards the end it starts to feel like a real group of people desperate to get out of a horrible situation alive, not just a group of wacky anime stereotypes.
As much as I’d still love just one more murder mystery, I really do hope that this is the finale. The points this game makes towards the end would feel a bit hollow if things kept going after this, but either way, V3 might be my new favorite in the series.
I’ve deleted and rewritten this passage about five times at this point. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to talk about how this game makes me feel, so I’m just going to talk about what it is to me. I went into it having read spoilers for NieR and Drakengard, so I thought I knew what to expect. It would be a neat game, but it was really all setup for some mind bending finale that would knock me on my ass. The thing none of those summaries were able to prepare me for, though, was the gentle thoughtfulness that his games had developed since 2003, and the amount of respect and care he gives to his characters.
The desolate and mostly abandoned setting of Automata allows the game to highlight the people that remain and give every one of them their due. I feel like I remember everybody I came across, just by virtue of them being there to keep me company. The robot village was my grounding, but every bit of life sprinkled throughout the city and surrounding wilderness feels worth protecting. It’s why I felt bad about attacking the robots from the jump, I never needed somebody to tell me they were just like us, it never mattered. Every lifeform you come across feels precious and unique, and they each have their individual ways of piecing together what exactly humans were all about.
Like 2015’s SOMA (and a million other sci-fi works), NieR asks intentionally unanswerable questions about humanity and the nature of consciousness through human-like androids. Unlike SOMA, I didn’t finish NieR with a newly developed identity crisis and a general sense of defeat about where we’re going as a species. Despite taking place thousands of years after humanity’s demise, the game does a whole lot of work to avoid feeling like a complete bummer. It feels like a celebration of human culture as much of a condemnation of it, a reflection on who we were and what we used to be like that’s only possible from an outside perspective.
I understand that the game’s not for everyone, no game is, but I really hope that anyone going into it fresh understands that there's more to this game than a flashy conclusion. If I had brushed past everything in NieR just to see what ending E was about, I would’ve hated it. There’s so much more here, like finding flowers for 6O, or the wandering couple, or the pit I get in my stomach every time I think about Pascal. The fact that all these things actually made a game worth slowing down for once to take in the surroundings should be a testament to how skillfully it’s all done.
Year is bad
Video games is good
I like video games
You like video games
Here is ten
The original Watch_Dogs didn’t do much for me. A miserable setting with miserable characters was pretty hard to care about when Grand Theft Auto V was still fresh in my mind. Watch Dogs 2 actually musters the courage to care about its world, about the things that happen there, about the people that live in it.
The crew at DedSec want to make the world a better place, even if their methods are a little over the top. Sure, it's a little hard to swallow a game that asks you to care about corruption but then turns around and lets you level half a city block with a grenade launcher, but the vibrant charm of the world built around that, the optimism and inclusivity, outshone that for me.
The bright-eyed enthusiasm and pure joy with which Watch Dogs 2 approaches everything it does is really nice to see in a genre dominated by cynical, drab revenge plots.
Everybody in this game is someone I want to be friends with. Even the guy that looks like a Hot Topic mascot. He's pretty cool.
I probably don’t need to extol the virtues of Doom 2016 to users. It takes all of the things that made the original games fun and modernizes them in a way that makes for a better shooter campaign than anything we’ve seen in years. Somehow id knew exactly what a Doom game needed to be in 2016, maybe better than anyone could have expected.
Also you get to rip demons in half by the jaw so, y’know.
Limbo is a game I’ve returned to several times since I first played it. While it never really spoke to me on a deeper level, the atmosphere and awesome puzzle design made it a great game to power through in a single sitting every once in a while. With Inside, I’m not sure I’ll ever need to go back. It feels like everything Limbo ever aspired to be.
There's a point about halfway through where things felt like they were slowing down a little too much for me, but then you meet a little buddy with some impressive swimming skills and things ratchet right back up again, and stay there, all the way through to the end.
The moody atmosphere, the look and feel of the game, and the way the puzzles continue to expand on each other as the game progresses all blow Playdead’s first offering out of the water (pun not intended I swear) And then there’s that ending.
When Uncharted 4 first got announced, I had the same reaction a lot of people did. “Is this really necessary?” Even if 3 was a little lackluster, it certainly felt like the natural conclusion of the series; So when reviewers started getting their hands on Uncharted 4 and saying it was better than my beloved Uncharted 2, I was excited to be proven wrong.
It didn’t necessarily blow me away as much as it did some people, but man. MAN. What an absolute blast. Uncharted, strangely, feels like kind of a dying breed in AAA games right now. Unapologetically linear, with no real replay value hooks other than the fact that it’s just damn fun to play (We can pretend the multiplayer doesn’t exist, right?)
It’s not gonna be for everyone, and I totally understand anyone who just can’t bring themselves to care about more Uncharted, but I’m just glad to see Nathan Drake off on such a high note.
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I never got around to Gone Home when it first came out. A bad PC and the misguided stigma around “walking simulators” kept me away from a game that might’ve totally been my kind of thing. Firewatch ended up being my first real experience in the genre, and I couldn’t have asked for a better entry point. Firewatch is beautiful. Firewatch is depressing. Firewatch made me involuntarily stand up from my chair multiple times because I couldn’t stand the tension. Ultimately, though, Firewatch is disappointing.
Not in a bad way though; The disappointment end emptiness I was left with after Firewatch was weirdly invigorating, because no other work of fiction had made me feel that way before. I’ve probably already said too much, but if you’ve played Firewatch you know what I mean.
Some people might just call it a lame, anticlimactic ending and be done with it, but Firewatch’s conclusion left me reeling in a way that has me excited to see what Campo Santo does next.
In a medium dominated by stories about saving the world and killing a bunch of bad guys in the coolest, flashiest ways possible, it’s really refreshing to have a game like VA-11 Hall-A that just feels relaxing. The game even tells you to grab a drink and get comfortable when you start it up for the first time.
VA-11 Hall-A is a game interested in the little things. In a big, neon drenched cyberpunk city with no shortage of diverse characters and crazy, intrigue filled stories to follow, it’s content just letting us get to know with a single down on her luck bartender and her friends.This sense of intimacy is where VA-11 Hall-A’s writing thrives. Simple but thoughtful conversations between characters that feel like real people discussing real problems in their lives. The game has sort of a main plot, but even that feels as down to earth and relatable as any of the stories you hear from bar patrons.
There’s a wonderful moment in VA-11 Hall-A where a good friend pulls your character aside and reverses the roles, pouring you a drink and urging you to talk about your problems for once. Rarely does a specific video game feel like “self care” to me, but VA-11 Hall-A does. Not in a constantly cheery, lighthearted kind of way, but in a way that’s sometimes messy, sometimes ugly, sometimes depressing; But usually, at the end of the day, for lack of a better word: hopeful.
Alright, now let me tell you about murder.
There’s a lot of video games about murdering dudes. Roughly half the games on this list are about murdering dudes. With Hitman, though? Murdering’s never been better. One time I blew up a guy with a cannon, dressed up as his golf instructor, and poisoned his sister’s champagne. Another time I yoga’d a lady off a cliff and sucked another dude’s blood out by hacking his automated surgery machine.
I’d tell more stories but I think this video can make the rest of my case for me.
Basically, Hitman’s the greatest game ever made.
Okay, there might be some other games on this list I had more fun with in the moment, but there’s absolutely zero video games out right now that I want to return to as often as Overwatch. Even right now, I’m writing this entry and thinking about all the holiday loot boxes I could be getting. It drives me crazy sometimes. I’ve had to walk away more than a few times due a humiliating loss because somebody absolutely insisted on PICKING HANZO WHEN WE ALREADY HAVE A WIDOWMAKER ON ATTACK COOL NO PROBLEM GUYS
But it’s fun. It’s really, really fun. Sometimes I wish I could stop playing, but I also really don’t wish I could stop playing. I haven’t been sucked into a game like I have with Overwatch in almost a decade, and it’s so nice to feel so at home with a game again.
Sure, there’s always gonna be attack Widowmakers and people who just will not stop picking Genji, but I feel pretty okay taking the bad with the good on this one.
Alright, that’s probably enough words for a post. I’m gonna go do some quick play now.
In case you wanna see my specific awards like best horror game or best music, check out my first list over here.
2016 was pretty good year for me? All things considered?
Okay, look, at least video games were good this year. I also started my junior year of college and put out some videos that a couple people seemed to like.
But the games are why we're here. So without any further ado, these are some of the games from 2016 I felt were most deserving of some recognition.
Retro game soundtracks are all over the place these days, but that doesn't keep them from being impressive when done well. Last year, Undertale impressed with a ridiculously cohesive score that communicated a narrative entirely on its own. VA-11 HALL-A's music, on the other hand, is more content with simply serving as a compliment to the seedy yet vibrant cyberpunk dystopia the game is set in. It's also just really really catchy.
Part of what makes VA-11 HALL-A's soundtrack so compelling is that rather than mimicking the sound of Megaman or any other retro games most people actually care about, it attempts to rediscover what was so undeniably cool about 80's inspired SEGA CD games like Snatcher. Every synth heavy, sax laden track in VA-11 HALL-A just oozes "cool".
Each in-game shift starts with the option to pick the night's jukebox rotation. While I had plenty of consistent picks by the end of the game (Welcome To Valhalla has to play first. It just does.) I always wanted to experiment with the lineup and try out new songs because it's all just consistently that good.
If it's any indication, I've been listening to it on a loop the entire time I've been writing this list.
Garoad did an incredible job with this soundtrack, maybe check out their bandcamp over here? https://garoad.bandcamp.com/
I put together a playlist of some of my favorite tracks from the game here.
Runner up: DOOM
Let's be honest, unique horror games have been in short supply the last few years. Even if you love games like Outlast, it's hard to deny that most horror games tend to go for the same tired, gritty, oh-my-god-look-how-much-blood-is-in-this-bathroom style of horror. Oxenfree feels like a much needed breath of fresh air right now.
The game takes a lot of hints from 70's and 80's horror films, which is evident in the way that every character embodies teen horror stereotypes. It's not a slasher, not even close, but the tense and oppressive atmosphere makes you feel like any one of your awful teen friends could get the axe at any moment.
Also, it's a moderately surreal horror game that doesn't totally spell everything out for you. That's enough for me.
Ultimately, though, what you get out of Oxenfree is going to rely on whether the game's aesthetic clicks with you or not. There's a specific niche of horror fans that'll absolutely adore this game. To put it flatly, if you loved the 2014 film It Follows, or last year's Life is Strange, pick up Oxenfree. You won't regret it.
Runner up: Yomawari: Night Alone
I'm not sure what kind of dark magic the people over at Naughty Dog are employing, but I'm not about to complain. Somehow, the team in charge of Uncharted 4 took the aging hardware of the PS4 and managed to churn out something that looks better than most if not all of this year's higher tech PC offerings.
Part of what makes Uncharted 4 so breathtaking is the variety of locations. While it does still fall into that series trap of "sewer-like level, snow level, jungle level", it serves up new twists on the same old locales that manage to make the whole thing feel fresh.
And while Uncharted 4's impressive blend of solid art direction and straight up graphics horsepower has turned plenty of heads, there's one aspect of the game's visuals that doesn't get enough credit: the UI. While familiar in many respects, there are plenty of little touches that make it feel like a step up from what was a series with a largely functional if forgettable user interface. The minimalistic yet flashy animations when HUD elements pop up onscreen, the way chapter titles are actually written out in front of you as if on parchment rather than just fading into view; It all feels stylish without being cumbersome to actually use.
At the end of the day, it's a new Uncharted game. Of course it looks ridiculously, mindbogglingly gorgeous. But even when Uncharted 2 was blowing me away with its visuals back in 2009, I never questioned how Naughty Dog was able to fit so much on the PS3. The fact that Uncharted 4 manages to look as good as it does on a console is nothing less than a triumph.
Runner up: Firewatch
If you'd told me 9 months ago that Overwatch would be my most played game this year, I'm not sure I would've believed you. It had all the marks of a game I'd respectfully listen to my friends gush about without ever wanting to touch; A class-based first person shooter (hmm) with MOBA elements (ah jeez) developed by Blizzard (oh NO), but it somehow managed to get its hooks in me despite all that.
I don't normally get very invested in multiplayer games at all, but I also haven't had one grab me like this since the original Left 4 Dead in 2008. Overwatch has ruined me. I don't want to play other online games because that's time I could be spending playing Overwatch. I've memorized the fastest ways to get around maps and flank the other team. I've started caring about team composition for god's sake.
It's hard to pin down what exactly it is about Overwatch that draws me in so much. The vibrant and friendly graphics certainly help. The systems built around celebrating players that do well (and not singling out ones that do poorly) help too. Some people lament the game's lack of progression or meaningful unlocks, but I absolutely love it. Never again will I jump into a match only to get completely destroyed because I haven't unlocked the best gun yet.
It's not perfect, there's still plenty of improvements to be made, but Blizzard's willingness to listen to players and change things up if they aren't working make me confident in Overwatch's longevity. Maybe some day I'll get tired of it, but I don't see that happening any time remotely soon. To steal a line from one Bradley Shoemaker: If I were on a desert island, as long as there's decent internet, I'd play it forever.
Except he was talking about DOTA when he said that. And DOTA's for monsters.
Runner up: Titanfall 2
My Top Ten List is over here.
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