Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nick's 10 Favorite Games From 2016

2016 was another great year for video games, and before we get to my top 10, there were 10 other games this year that I just had to give some nods to - you can see those here.

Maybe I have too much time on my hands? Because there's another game that just squeezed into 2016 that I love/possibly hate:

#? - Let It Die

Ascend the Icon: The Tower of Barbs.
I'll keep this short, because I'm still collecting my thoughts on this very weird, free to play roguelikelike punk-dark souls game from Grasshopper Manufacture. Players pilot inhuman fighters through floors of a post-apocalypse tower that suddenly rose from the Earth (and no one knows why). So far the free to play mechanics haven't hindered my enjoyable 40+ hours of playtime but I've only reached the 16th floor out of 40. I will say this is the first FTP game I put some money into, because I just wanted to support it somehow. So stay tuned on my final thoughts - this thing is dense and hard to describe but I sort of love it but maybe hate it. I definitely love Uncle Death.

#10 - Devil Daggers

Your screen will quickly fill with skulls.
Devil Daggers came out of nowhere and punched me in the face. The game is very simple: a first person shooter in which you survive as long as possible against an onslaught of unholy skulls in various forms. It presented a leaderboard chase that I didn't plan on chasing. I spent way too much time playing something comprised of runs that could last upwards of only 5 minutes. But I adored every second. I love the 90's FPS low-poly aesthetic and the most interesting aspect of its design is the audio. I relied so much on specific enemy sounds to know where they were and when they spawned. I liked to imagine that the body-less hand you play as was actually some blind monk or cleric diving into hell in a futile attempt to vanquish demons. 

What I enjoyed the most was learning the game's pattern. Yes, not only is Devil Daggers already pretty slim content-wise, but the pattern of enemies is consistent in runs. The allure of constantly improving my tactics and gaining more time survived was invigorating. I don't know if I'd have liked it as much if it were randomized like so many games nowadays. Later in the year, the devs even switched up the pattern to refresh a game that took 20 hours to grow stale for me. 

For a mere $5, Devil Daggers is my most unexpected delight of 2016.

#9 - Thumper

Those colors, man.
Thumper sucked me back into the rhythm game genre with next-level speed, deceptively simple mechanics, and disturbing & trippy visuals - the track stretching on into infinity as you hit bumps of sound along the way. The music creates a feeling of dread and anticipation of the unknown while your space beetle slams off of turns at a blistering pace. I loved getting lost in the dark and trying to build difficult combos. With only a single button and the analog stick, Thumper is impressively deep in terms of score attacking. It's a total package that makes simple visuals constantly interesting, paired with engaging and challenging gameplay, while an odd style of music assaults your heart beat. Thumper was another unexpected personal treat for me that transported my brain into another dimension. I loved it so much I reviewed it this year.

#8 - Titanfall 2

BT <3
Titanfall had great gameplay but thin content. I wanted a campaign and 2 delivered a fun and varied romp with action and first person platforming done exceptionally well. BT-7274 was a great titan companion because he actually made me laugh, often. Robot friends in games can either fail miserably at humor or nail it, and BT nailed it. Even multiplayer hooked me for a few weeks, which is very out of the ordinary, but the campaign is what really surprised me. It constantly changed pace: from on foot shooting, platforming-heavy sections, titan battles and surprising twists on the game's own mechanics. I think it says a lot about Respawn's talent that they were able to spin some sort of story out of a previously multiplayer-only game (though I'm not totally sure what happened). It's possible we'll never see Titanfall again, and that's a shame, but at least we received a surprisingly engaging entry.

#7 - Duelyst

I won this match because that dragon
could fly across the board.
If I could tie you to a chair and force you to play Duelyst I would. I loved Hearthstone, and Duelyst is the right riff on that formula. Tactical positioning paired with summoning minions and spells is a game changer. I haven't reached higher levels of play (yet) but I never see the same tactics used twice. Each deck has the option of changing its leading hero, with each hero having their own special ability. This doubles the deck variety in terms of what minions/spells are best paired with what hero. I've complained in the past about the interface for deck building in Hearthstone, and Duelyst is no different, but I find myself tooling my decks so much more than I ever did with Hearthstone. 

Unfortunately, I never hear about Duelyst from major sources. One downfall is that it doesn't appear this game is possible on mobile devices, where Hearthstone thrives. Over the past couple years I've really fallen in love with games that use grid-based tactical positioning and adding it to a card battler was such a great idea. It adds a level of strategy that isn't possible in other games of the genre and is a major factor in what keeps me coming back. There's a really weird universe going on in this game, too, that has an exhaustive amount of in-game lore. Knowing why a certain hero behaves the way they do, with the cards they have at their disposal, is a nice little cherry on top of an exceptional card battler.

#6 - Inside

Everything wants to kill you.
I was so excited for the next game from the Limbo devs. Limbo was an important early indie game for consoles that I thought lost what it had going towards the latter half. Out of nowhere comes Inside, which refined what Playdead started with Limbo in atmosphere, puzzle solving and aesthetic. Inside is consistently clever, never relying on a puzzle mechanic for too long. The animation is astoundingly detailed. Every little movement was carefully considered. Inside isn't very long, but it is the perfect length. There is an incredible sense of atmospheric dread and it's all done without dialogue and minimal audio. The puzzles never felt annoyingly challenging but were instead perfectly tuned and intuitive. 

Inside is masterful and simply must be played.

#5 - Witcher 3: Blood & Wine 

Farewell, Geralt of Rivia.
Just when you thought I've gushed about Witcher 3 too much, along comes Blood & Wine. Toussaint is a beautiful new setting - a stark contrast to the war-torn lands of Velen and the crime ridden streets of Novigrad. With the beauty came a fairly large map to explore and tons of new quests which were well written and worth pursuing. 

The main quest is even better than the base game! It introduced some cool new characters in the form of Elder Vampires, bringing unique characterization to what were previously just monsters to kill. To top it all off, Geralt gets his own vineyard that can be upgraded in a few ways and provide easy access to crafting stations. The upgrades were minor, but it felt like my home, where I could display all of my Witcher gear and marvel at the amount of time I spent in this game. While still being dark, Blood & Wine just felt light hearted - like a triumph for the end of an incredible game. I'm sad to see the series go, but Geralt's last hurrah was near perfect and maybe I cried when I said goodbye to the White Wolf.

#4 - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Nate & Sam's relationship was a joy to see.
2016 was the year I finally grabbed a PS4 and it just happened to include a copy of Uncharted 4. I'm not a huge fan of the series and have spoken out against the gunplay for quite some time but I was still looking forward to the final entry. Uncharted 4 was once again another enjoyable treasure-hunting romp through ancient structures and puzzles. The difference this time was that I played on the ultra easy mode - where I essentially was invincible in gunfights. 

Playing this way is what led me to have so much fun with Drake's final outing. It just felt appropriate. The series has always felt like an over-the-top action movie, where the hero is always laughing in the face of death. Why shouldn't he just mow down the droves of nameless dudes without a second thought? Easy-easy mode allowed me to focus on the story that I didn't think I cared about, with characters I didn't think could evoke emotional responses from me. It allowed me to bask in the stunning visuals and really drink in the environment I was climbing upon/swinging from/falling off of instead of dreading the next shootout. Nathan's previously unheard of brother was introduced well and fit right into the story without feeling forced (with a great performance from Troy Baker to boot). Uncharted's story was lengthy and I constantly felt compelled to keep seeing what could possibly happen next. It was another fitting farewell to a character I thought I'd forgotten - a farewell I thoroughly enjoyed.

#3 - Doom

What a god damn iconic scene.
Doom is a special series to me. I was very young when Doom 1 & 2 initially came out, so I didn't get to experience them until they were officially classics when I was about 13. One of my best friends and I got heavily invested in Doom 2 multiplayer with custom servers and mods around that time - and I continued to play almost daily up until my sophomore year of college. 6 years consistently playing what most would consider a very dated game. Doom 3 was a big deal when I was still playing 2 but it just didn't matter to me at that time. I didn't like the horror focus they went with in 3 so I was skeptical when Doom 4 was getting whispered about around the internet. How could Doom ever really be relevant again? The multiplayer beta sure as hell didn't help its case. 

Doom 2016 ended up delivering an amazing nostalgia trip for a series fan. Fluid, fast paced gameplay that was reminiscent of Bulletstorm's arcadey score attacking made Doom feel classic but fresh. It's ultra violent, which isn't something new, but required when thinking about those awfully grotesque death animation sprites from 1 & 2. But the best part about Doom 2016? It is incredibly self-aware. Doom Guy is essentially a God to the demons of hell. His story is inscribed in dark chambers scattered around Hell, relaying the tale of when the "Doom Slayer" assaulted the planes of Hell and brought ruin to its denizens. It's so ridiculous and it just works. Doom was so fun to play - the guns felt great, with modern RPG elements that were simple but welcome. Even the first person platforming felt good and the melee kills that yielded ammo/health would happen so fast and were so violent that it never got old. One aspect I didn't spend too much time with was all the secrets hidden around. I can acknowledge that the secret discovery aspect was very well done, I just never felt the need to stop the action for too long. The little secrets I found were cool and that was plenty. Doom also turned out to be a pretty ambitious package, with an entire level creating suite that is rather deep. 

Doom is back and I couldn't be happier.

#2 - Dark Souls III

Praise the twilight.
I'm a hypocrite because I constantly complain that established game series don't try anything new. Dark Souls 3 is the definitive "more of X". The Souls series is also my high water mark in terms of Action RPG gameplay. You might say I'm biased. 

I finally got around to playing Bloodborne this year, (post-DS3), so DS3 was my first experience with the new engine. It was such a welcome addition to the traditional Souls experience - adding more range of movement and prettier visuals (this game looks excellent on PC at 60 fps). DS3 managed to provide a challenge for a series vet as well, with some really enjoyable boss battles (some of the best in the series). From Software carried over some of Bloodborne's simplifications, like no upgradeable armor, that I didn't appreciate. But in typical Souls fashion, there was a ton of different armor sets to play around with. DS3 introduced 'weapon arts' which were special attacks for each weapon and weapon type which added another level of combo possibilities. My favorite part of Souls is experimenting with weapons and the arts made that all the more fun. 

I think DS3 was pretty ambitious in terms of narrative, maybe the most in the series. This led to some really cool moments that wrapped the series back on itself that at times felt too fan servicey, but still worked for a fan. I wasn't sure if I really wanted DS3 but of course I loved it - though I'm looking forward to the series coming to a close. There's one more piece of DLC coming that I'll certainly play, with the first piece being just okay, but it feels like it's time for Souls to finally let the fire die. 

#1 - Xcom 2

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
My love of tactical RPG's is a fairly recent one. Last year I finally got around to playing Xcom: Enemy Unknown - a revival of a series long dead that came well before my time. I loved Enemy Unknown, and its refinement with the DLC, Enemy Within. Xcom's premise is simple: aliens have invaded and are trying to wrest control of earth from its denizens by force while also infiltrating the government disguised as humans. The sequel to the revival, Xcom 2, chooses the 'bad' ending from Enemy Within, in which humanity loses, and the aliens establish a totalitarian regime. That choice alone is one of the reasons I adored Xcom 2. Firaxis wasn't afraid to make an undesirable narrative choice in order to produce a more interesting game. Xcom 2 takes place years after the first - giving the aliens, the Advent, time to set up shop and convince surviving humans that they're just trying to help. 

What a load of bullshit.

But at least it led to them producing a new cast of varied and challenging enemies for the player to dispatch over a long campaign. Xcom 2 is very difficult - even on the normal difficulty and with save scumming, (of which I took major advantage). I would have never completed it and I praise the players who manage to do Ironman playthroughs - a setting that only lets you manage a single, autosaving file. Despite my save-scumming, I still lost some of my soldiers and I still felt the pain of defeat when I decided to abandon missions in order to cut my losses. And I loved that. I loved the anticipation of starting a new encounter and anxiety for what enemies might lay within. 

I think there's still some issues with how the game handles line of sight and the occasional mission that throws an unreal amount of powerful enemies at your max team size of 6, but figuring out the best way to succeed was really satisfying. I also really liked having a mobile home base that you navigated around the world, establishing resistance cells and slowly taking back control of earth. The entire experience just felt grand and being the one in control of every choice allowed me to craft my own story. Building up your base and cast of soldiers and constantly improving everything was really rewarding. Xcom 2 is exceptional on just about every level.

No comments:

Post a Comment