2016. There’s nothing to be said that hasn’t already been said, and I don’t want to drag down what should be a celebration of the year in video games. But the fact is 2016 wasn’t pleasant, to put it mildly. Thankfully, what was generally a disastrous year for the world was actually a rather good year for video games. My main regret is that I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to invest into them. However, I have managed to play some titles at least. Here’s my rundown of the highlights and a few lowlights.
Biggest Mixed Reaction
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: First off, the gameplay of Mankind Divided is first class, falling only behind Dishonored 2 in terms of the best-playing games of the year (that I played at any rate). With that said, it is ultimately the plot and lack of it that really lets Mankind Divided down. It feels decidedly like the middle part of a much longer story arc, and the game ends quite suddenly after defeating a character that should be considered a mid-level boss at the most. Research has indicated that Mankind Divided was originally envisaged to be more self-contained, but Square Enix insisted on chopping the game up. Consequently, the whole game suffers from a sense of lack of consequence, and that you don’t really manage to achieve anything or uncover any mystery by the end of it. With that said, the game is gorgeous, has a great setting, excellent music, decent voice acting and a good amount of replayability. Just be prepared to not focus on the plot in order to carry your involvement forward.
BioShock/BioShock 2 Remastered: I absolutely adore BioShock. It’s certainly in my list of all-time favourite games. Therefore, the idea to remaster BioShock and the slightly less iconic but still nonetheless worthwhile BioShock 2 seemed like a winner. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. Both remasters launched with a plethora of bugs, including long-standing bugs present from the original releases of both titles. Whilst the up-scaled textures looked good, the curious decision to remove a wet surface texture meant that large parts of Rapture suddenly became bone-dry, and for a leaking city under the sea, this made no sense whatsoever. Some patches have rectified some of the more common complaints, but not enough love or attention went into BioShock Remastered, and that is a hugely wasted opportunity.
Fallout 4: Far Harbor: Fallout 4’s DLC was on the whole lacklustre, featuring a bevy of small workshop-focussed add-ons which didn’t actually add a whole lot to the game. Far Harbor was by far the largest expansion, and it also contained one of the best narratives in the whole of Fallout 4, easily bettering the game’s main plotline. The island of Far Harbor (styled after Maine’s Mount Desert Island) was a foggy, dangerous place crawling with some of the most fearsome creatures in the wasteland, and with a trio of factions to be reconciled as well as more ruined settlements to explore, Far Harbor was certainly the best Bethesda DLC since Skyrim’s Dragonborn.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: I’m a sucker for a digital English village, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has just about the best digital English village I’ve ever seen. The PC version of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture came out in 2016 and while this game is very sedate, I enjoyed the great voice acting and large cast of characters and a multifaceted plot which slowly uncovers as you venture across the Yaughton valley. It’s not for everyone, but I definitely recommend this as a beautiful, thoughtful “walk-‘em-up”. You can read my review here.
Best Adventure Game
Firewatch: Firewatch is a very interesting adventure game. It doesn’t really have puzzles, but rather a story which you experience and subtly influence. Set in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989, you inhabit the role of Henry who takes a job as a fire lookout in order to get away from personal troubles in his life. The game slowly evolves into a mysterious and emotional rollercoaster which does end somewhat disappointingly, but the journey there is very strong. Great characters, beautiful environments and a unique setting make Firewatch something special. You can read my review here.
Most Innovative Game
Event: Event has quite a lot of issues, but what makes it memorable is the innovative use of conversing with an AI. In the game you are stranded on a luxury space yacht and the ship’s AI, Kaizen, is rather lonely. You can type questions and statements to Kaizen who will then reply with whatever useful information he feels like. For large parts, talking to Kaizen manages to feel naturalistic and convincing; there are a couple of sections where you have to plead with him to let you do something which are among the strongest parts. Sometimes you do see the ghost in the machine and the limits of Kaizen’s programming, but because he’s an ostensibly malfunctioning computer, it kind of makes sense. Event is worth a look if you’re interested in seeing how chatbot technology can be taken to the next level and help to tell and involving narrative.
Pony Island: In Pony Island you play an arcade machine designed by Satan. The Devil is determined to get his hands on your soul, and only by completing a series of increasingly fiendish puzzles and challenges can you best him and remain in the earthly realm. The game has a delightfully dark and devilish sense of humour, coupled with a great art style. I personally found the runner-esque sections of the game where you have to jump and avoid obstacles tiresome, but the underlying strengths of the style and interesting puzzles where you must attempt to reprogram Satan’s flawed code are great. Combine that with a load of extra Easter eggs and some hidden content and Pony Island stands out above the simplistic preconceptions the title might create.
Gareth’s Game of the Year
Best Stealth Game
Dishonored 2: You can read my full review of Dishonored 2 here, but save to say and despite the glitches and poor framerates the game launched with, it is thoroughly spectacular. It doesn’t have the great plotline which I hoped it would, but it is nonetheless able to make up for this with a superb setting in the city of Karnaca, coupled with absolutely stellar gameplay. It also has some standout levels which could in all honesty be counted among the best levels of all-time. The game is a delight to play, whether you’re a stealth master of a merciless killer. I’ll definitely be playing Dishonored 2 well into 2017 and I hope that it gets supported with some interesting DLC.