Friday, January 13, 2017

20 Random games I loved in 2016!

What Ho! What is this!? Yes, It's a new year, I've been in hibernation a while, and due to many life altering events, those of you who care (all three of you) or with long memories, might recall that I skipped last year's list. I must apologize, suffice it to say, I had the best of intentions, and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is probably the single greatest game I have ever played. I'd have simply picked it 20 times over again this year, 20 separate thumbnails of that minimalist box art and Geralt's scraggly monster slaying beard. Sadly, my editor insists that a “best of 2016” list MUST include games that were released in 2016, and that no, Blood and Wine is an expansion, not a full game. If I want to get paid, I must capitulate (ED – paid??? HAH!).

The same rules as always apply; for those of you who are new, or for those of you who are old and need to be brought up to speed, I have two rules:

  1. These are presented in no particular order, numerical, alphabetical, preferential, none. Chaos abounds!
  2. I don't give a hoot, a fig, a shit (if you will) about Metacritic scores, IGN video reviews, Gamerankings, Eurogamer, Zero Punctiation or Jimminycrickitquisition or whatever title the hot young nubile Youtube warrior of the moment is being paid to shill. These are games that I dug. To hell with reasons; if I wanna talk about em, I will dammit! (ED-unless they came out in 2015! In which case, shut it and move on!)
  3. OK, third rule, just to prove a point: Chaos abounds! Shut up editor! You're not my real dad!

Here we go, 2016, 20 games, dig in!

- Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
In the past, we would often gripe about the long-term sustainability of the Call of Duty hype train, and it's horribly ironic that said train would suddenly and violently be derailed in such spectacular fashion RIGHT when the guys at Infinity Ward drop the single greatest campaign since the franchise really took off in 2007. In part, Infinite Warfare succeeds because it places the campaign front and centre for the first time in close to a decade, and beyond that, it steps well outside the comfort zone of “sand, blood, and mud” to give us a truly epic tale of interstellar conflict, dogfights in space, and the most wonderfully written and realized characters in the series' lengthy history. These fantastic characters are thrown into one gut wrenching scenario after another, and these jaw-slapping set pieces do not disappoint. In a year that was stacked with exceptional shooters, a veritable Renaissance of single-player FPS campaigns, this one was my favourite! I'm as shocked as anyone!

- Titanfall 2
The original Titanfall, while much hyped, and very cool looking, fell a little short of being the 'world class' title many expected from the guys who'd cooked up Call of Duty. The multi-player experience was exceptional, but it really felt more like a blueprint for future titles rather than a fully featured game. Titanfall 2 is that blueprint brought to fruition. The game's design is exceptional, the single player campaign is sheer excellence. Vertical and horizontal jet-pack fuelled wall-running mayhem combines with some fantastic weaponry, giant mech suits, extremely cool boss fights, and the most inspired level design i've seen in a first person shooter. The multiplayer also gets a considerable boost with more classes of stompy robots, more weapons, and a more robust progression system. Objectively, Titanfall 2 is possibly the best shooter of the year, even if it fell a little short narratively for me in comparison to a few 
others. Either way, it's a must own for fans of the genre.

- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
I really, sort of selfishly wanted Uncharted 4 to fail. Neil Druckmann, now a darling following the overwhelming success of The Last of Us, deposed series creator and shepherd Amy Hennig, and brought Troy Baker along for the ride to star as Nathan’s hitherto unknown and unspoken of brother. Creator leaves company and a character tacked on to distract from the awesomeness of Nathan Drake? A recipe for disaster in he making? In the end, we got what can only be described as Naughty Dog’s singular masterpiece. Uncharted 4 blows the conventions of action/adventure game design wide open. It flows smoothly, without the typically telegraphed action vs. Narrative vs. Platforming dichotomy that plagued the previous entries in the series (and indeed, The Last of Us as well). From open to close, Uncharted 4 takes us on an amazing ride that weaves through the hallmarks of the series without ever getting wistful or nostalgic, and without ever compromising on character or narrative for the sake of shoehorning in ten minutes of video game shooty shooty. Beyond that, it avoids the “interactive movie” pitfalls as well, leaving you, the player in the driver’s seat. It’s linear, but it feels open. The characters are majestically well presented, the story beats are near flawless, and good lord, that ending! To top it all off, it’s one of, if not the best looking thing I’ve ever seen. Period. This is one of those games that exemplifies why many of us play games in the first place. If I had to pick just one for 2016, this would be it. Well done Mr. Druckmann, I’m sorry I doubted you.

- Dark Souls III
That Dark Souls continues to soldier on, and only grows in popularity as it does, continues to astound me. If you had told me in 2009 that a series built upon complex systems, unforgiving learning curves, punishing bosses, and slow and steady progression would become a bonafide fan-favorite, well, I’d have scoffed. It has, and will likely continue to be in whatever iteration it eventually reappears in. For now, this is the end, and what a glorious end it is! The developers at From Software continue to work their brutal dark wizardry, building on what makes the series great, as the slow and steady decline of the world of Dark Souls continues unabated. Dark Souls III is the darkest trip yet, the dying, sombre tone of the first two games has been replaced by that of a dead place, covered in smoke and ash. The pockets of humanity and hope are fewer and farther between than ever, and the combat feels as wonderful as ever, with a few bits cribbed from last year’s wonderful Bloodborne thrown in for good measure. The world design never quite reaches the ‘folding in on itself’ brilliance of the original, but as a final chapter, it’s a beautiful and fitting send off for what has been one of my favorite series’ of all time.

- Mafia III
For those who played the (in my opinion) pretty excellent Mafia II during the last generation, you pretty well know what to expect here. Mafia III’s focus is on the narrative, and it does an absolutely spectacular job of telling the tale of Lincoln Clay and his vengeance fuelled rampage through late ‘60s New Bordeaux. Few open world crime epics make the effort to be as poignant and well presented as Mafia has, and III is the most ambitious effort yet. The occasional stutter or glitch is easily overshadowed by the fantastic art design and presentation, and while the game isn’t quite the open sandbox cartoon you’d expect in a post GTA V world, it does give you some opportunity to explore and play a little. Above all else though, You play Mafia III for Lincoln’s story, a mature (in the truest sense) tale of rise, fall, and rage set against a starkly real backdrop. The controls felt great, I loved the characters, I loved the music, overall I loved my time here.

- Battlefield 1
Well, if nothing else, Battlefield 1 definitely wins the ‘That was unexpected’ award for 2016. In the age of future warsoldiers, 1 does the unthinkable and dumps us into the turn of the century shenanigans of World War 1. Beyond that; Battlefield 1 takes the road of reverence typically reserved for Medal of Honor and presents the Great War in sombre beats rather than with Michael Bay flourish. The excellent single player element adds to the significant 1 player riches we’ve gotten this year, and the multiplayer is Battlefield at its best. Battlefield 1 is probably the most memorable entry in the series as yet, gorgeous, tight, and surprising in all the right ways.

- The Last Guardian
In a few especially nerdy circles, the name Fumito Ueda is that of a creative visionary, responsible for two cult classics often spoken of with reverence and wistful nostalgia. The Last Guardian was to be the culmination of everything Ueda had achieved in the PS2 era with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and was hotly anticipated when it was originally announced for the PS3, nine years ago. Quite frankly, it’s amazing that the game has survived, and all the more miraculous that it came out so beautifully given its troubled production. For those, like me, who loved the first two, The Last Guardian really does combine the great elements of both previous titles, and it shines with the same brilliant artistry and character as well. The game also gives us a wonderful relationship between our nameless young protagonist, and Trico, the giant pet bird-dragon-cat thing that follows you around, and quickly becomes the most charming and endearing AI-driven critter I’ve ever seen. Much like Ueda’s other titles, this isn’t some AAA-offering with mainstream appeal, and that really makes it all the more wonderful that Sony would stick with it, but for fans of Ico, or Shadow of the Colossus, you will not be disappointed. Be prepared for a soulful, sometimes perplexing and puzzle ridden experience, and bring kleenex.

- Tom Clancy's The Division
Ubisoft's online tactical shooter places players in a post-outbreak/pre-Will Smith New York City where city streets have fallen into chaos, and only those immune to a lab-crafted terror virus are able to survive. You are agents of The Division, a covert group of operatives designed to re-ignite the fires of American civilization in the event of total collapse, on the other side of your gunsights are the tribal remnants of NYC turned Road Warrior-esque kill squads. The Division combine's Destiny's persistent online shooter design with Ghost Recon's excellent cover based tactical shooting, and throws a hefty dose of RPG into the mix. The elements don't always blend flawlessly, I immediately had to turn off the garish damage counters for example, but overall the game looks good, plays well, and has a healthy mix of loot gathering and narrative push. It really fires when you get a few like-minded buddies together, as there's a lot of co-op fun to be had. What I love most is in how the game creatively handles things like PvP areas (the Dark Zone mechanic is brilliant!) and raids. On top of that, the post launch support has been excellent, the updates have served the game rather well without breaking anything fundamental, and the add-ons (one a dungon crawl through NYC subways, the other a survival game) have been fan-freaking-tastic. It's a divisive game to be sure (ED- groan), but plant me firmly in the “love it” camp.

- Doom
Calling Doom a throwback would be doing it an incredible disservice. What it does, is directly evolve the original concept of Doom, running like hell and shooting everything that moves, while ignoring any sophistication or further advancements in the genre that may hinder those goals. What Id has accomplished here is staggering; they've managed to make a game that's both lean and mean, while maintaining a surprisingly deep and versatile weapon customization system that feels incredible in action. It plays unlike anything else in the shooter market, it looks stunning in action, and it's got a ridiculously complex multiplayer element that includes a map-making utility. It doesn't have Infinite Warfare's amazing plot and Hollywood sheen, and it's certanly lacking Titanfall 2's progressive approach to level design and creativity. The multiplayer isn't the all out warfare of Battlefield 1, or the action figure slugfest of Overwatch, but it's pound for pound, probably the most 'fun' shooter of 2016. There's never been a game that bears the Id logo that I've disliked, but I have to say, this is probably their best, and that's really saying something.

- The Technomancer
Look, we all know that Focus Home Interactive is never winning a game of the year award, we also know that I'll play pretty much anything developed by Spiders (the developers behind Mars: War Logs, Of Orcs and Men, and Bound By Flame). The Technomancer is a sort of sequel/side story set in the world of last generation's 'Mars: War Logs', which none of you but me played anyway, so... why? Well, it's a sci-fi RPG, in and of itself a rare enough breed, cut from the Euro/America Bioware mold moreso than the JRPG school. Memorable companions, deep inventory and crafting, cool as hell Mars via Cyberpunk stylings, a decent bordering on very good combat system backed up by an extensive character progression system, and an entertaining sci-fi story with a pretty cool twist. Look, it isn't for everyone, it can be unwieldy at times, but if you, like me, enjoy some ambitious sci-fi storytelling in RPG form, it's worth your attention.

- ReCore
ReCore was another victim of hype run wild in 2016. Ex-Capcom legend Keiji Inafune's startup, Comcept handled the art side, while ex-Bungie/Halo mastermind Joe Staten did the storytelling, and Armature studios, formally Retro, the guys who made Metroid Prime, handled the heavy technical lifting. With that pedigree, many fans expected a killer-app, one that would push the Xbox One to the next level. Few expected a more back-to-basics approach for the action platformer, and in that moment, few would appreciate ReCore for what it was, a delightfully simple romp with some rock-solid mechanics and more than enough charm to go around. For me, it hearkens back to the Psone and PS2 era-platformers that weren't quite the AAA hardware sellers, but built loyal followings, the now vacant 'B-titles' that often brought fresh ideas and interesting concepts to the table without concern for hype or mass appeal. If I had to pick a flaw at gunpoint, I'd say it overstays its welcome a shade, but that hardly breaks the deal.

- Watch_Dogs 2
Initially, I was a little worried about Watch_Dogs 2; I was concerned that a in a knee-jerk reaction to the first game's frosty reception, Ubisoft pulled a 180, flipped the table, and went in a more 'EXTREME' direction; what with teen hacker protagonists and cheesy meme humor, etc etc. Thankfully, in spite of the early marketing, Watch_Dogs 2 is actually delightfully subversive, packed with solid, thoughtful characters, and provides an entirely fresh sandbox to romp in with it's San Fran hipster meets Silicon Valley environs. The mission designs are pretty fantastic, littered with references to real world “big web' stories (an early mission pokes a stick at the whole Martin Shekreli thing in brilliant fashion) and the way your in game phone uses 'apps' in gameplay is both hilariously meta and wonderfully executed. The original's fresh take on multi-player returns in expanded form, and there's a solid sized map littered with things to do. Many may have overlooked this one, but if you're a fan of open world shenanigans, it's well worth a look.

- I Am Setsuna
You're all bastards. I just thought I'd say. Square Enix put together a team composed of veterans, like a crack team of tier one special forces, dedicated to recapturing the old school feel of some of our most beloved and cherished games. They announced 'I Am Setsuna', with some world class talent and design echoing the classic-ist (ED – not a word) of the classics, Chrono Trigger. They filled this sucker to the brim, beautiful art, wonderful design, great characters, a heart-breaking story, gorgeous music, and you know what happened then? None of you bought it. Bastards! If they break up this group, and that's the end of the old school RPGs, I may kill you all.

- Salt and Sanctuary
Ska studio's ambitious free-roaming 2D side-scroller takes the concept of Souls-like (tm and copyright, Blast Processing inc.) far further than I ever dreamed anyone would. This is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night crossed with Dark Souls, with a few unique twists to the formula, and some incredible artwork to back it up. It has all of the hallmarks of the Souls series, the unforgiving brutality and death upon death, gear and abilities that can be adapted to suit many play styles, corpse runs to retrieve your lost 'salt' (the currency of Salt and Sanctuary), and the awesome sense of discovery as you slowly unravel the twisting and turning pathways of the world. That Ska managed to pull all of this off on a 2D plane is really something miraculous. If you fancy an old school romp, and you don't fear a challenge, this is definitely the best 'retro-ready' title I've played all year.

- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The official sequel to the rather superlative 'Deus Ex: Human Revolution' sees the return of Adam Jensen, now an augmented soldier in an Interpol task force. It gets a little muddy after that, as Jensen treks from Dubai to Prague to the Swiss Alps in his quest to discover the people behind a terror attack, and to continue his pursuit of the shadowy Illuminati. Conspiracy and morality plays abound, and Mankind Divided will have you second guessing every choice that you make as you proceed to the labyrinthine narrative. It's not enough that the game carries on the fantastic design of its prequel, but it really amps up the social commentary and cyberpunk tropes this time around. It also amps the combat. Deus Ex remains one of the most unique RPG experiences around, and for fans of the series, this worthy sequel will certainly not disappoint.

- Shadow of the Beast
How many of you remember the Amiga cult hit, Shadow of the Beast? No, I'll wait. How about the half wretched Genesis version? Thought not. After giving this re-make/tribute/museum a shot, you'll know all you need to know. THIS is how you bring back a classic franchise. Shadow of the Beast is ultimately a side scrolling beat 'em up, a very old school, combo driven design that thrusts you into the role of a genetically messed with monster, suddenly free of bondage and out to rip the larynx out of your former masters. Combat is fast, reflexive, and fun as hell, and the game's design is beautiful, with some really diverse environments. What's even cooler, is the inclusion of so much extra digital swag; Old box art, interviews, the ability to swap out the soundtrack for the classic version, and even the classic game itself, emulated in all its Commodore glory. As a tribute to what was barely a footnote in North America (but arguably a classic in Europe), Shadow of the Beast is a phenomenal effort.

- Exile's End
Back in the 16-bit era, I was a huge fan of these meticulous 2D adventure titles that made their name on trial and error exploration, with very tumultuous beginnings that slowly yielded as you learned the ins and outs of the mechanics. Games like 'Out of this World', 'Flashback', or 'Blackthorne' were a great way to burn through a weekend if you had the patience to persevere. Enter Exile's End, the closest I've seen to capturing that essence in a LONG time. You're Jameson, a grizzled veteran mercenary tasked with retrieving the Son of a corporate CEO lost on a mining colony. When you're ship is dusted in orbit, and your escape pod crash lands, it's up to you to survive as you navigate an alien world that's one part Super Metroid and one part Flashback. It's tough, and unforgiving at first, but as you discover some gear, the game slowly gives up its secrets, and really becomes something special.

- The King of Fighters XIV
There's no way of getting around this, Street Fighter V was a dump. The Street Fighter III to Street Fighter IV's Street Figher II... That sounded better in my head. Anyway, disappointing, half cooked, barely finished, anemic, with a wretched roster that highlights the quirky weird side of the series that I've always despised. Enough about that, because King of Fighters XIV isn't ANY of those things. What it is, is a series that plays on over 20 years of characters and small tuning to present what is considerably the ultimate package for any fan. Beautiful graphics are melded to fast, incredibly tight gameplay and beautifully elegant mechanics with someone on the roster to suit all play styles. There's no easier way to put it; this is undoubtedly one of the best fighters I've played, ever! If you're at all a devotee of the 2D fighting realm, you owe it to yourself to break this sucker out, rally around a few like minded individuals, and prepare to have an absolute blast.

- No Man's Sky
Poor Hello Games, their much hyped ticket to the big time wound up falling flat this past year, but I just can’t hate on a game that did exactly what I expected. Somewhere along the way, people lost the fact that No Man’s Sky is actually a pretty damned awesome space sandbox. Exploration and resource gathering, naming planets, trading up starships, encountering strange flora and fauna, and marvelling at the variety of planets you can discover and name, these things are all awesome. The fact that I actually had a few kids obsessed with discovering new worlds and harvesting materials to refuel hyperdrives for a good chunk of the summer, well that speaks for itself. I for one applaud the work of Sean Murray and company! I’m also glad they’re still adding features to keep things rolling. Don’t believe the hate, No Man’s Sky’s biggest crime was that it wasn’t the AAA be all-end all that the industry had set it up to be. Were Hello Games a little too ambitious? Yeah, no doubt. Did they craft a fun as hell space survival/sandbox? Yup! They sure did!

- Let it Die
OK, so Grasshopper Manufacture and maverick Japanese game developer Suda 51(who brought us lunacy like No More Heroes and Killer is Dead) announced a Souls-like, cool! It's free to play! Cooler still! You wake up on a subway car wearing a pair of skivvies and a gas mask, and the door opens, and you kill things. You pick up weapons that range from assault rifles to power saws, patchwork post-apocalyptic armor that pretty much starts disintegrating as soon as you equip it, and when you die, your corpse becomes a bad guy. There's also Death, the grim reaper death, in whirly hypno glasses, riding a skateboard. You travel back and forth from a video arcade stocked with weirdos to talk to, and no, I have no freaking idea what the hell is going on. You're trying to get to the top of a tower that looks like it's made out of old TV sets, it plays vaguely like Dark Souls on methamphetamine, and it's definitely fun. It's free! Go play it.

There you have it! feel free to yell, complain, argue, whatever. Feel free to comment, like, share, discuss, tell me you're favorite games of 2016!

Also, If you feel I should retread 2015 and chime in on what I loved there ,by all means let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

See ya next week! 

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