As we approach the merciful final days of 2016 with the hopes, the possibilities and the probable right-wing oligarchies that 2017 holds, now is the time to reflect on what the year has been like in the pointless world of video games. Sure 2016 has been a terrible year for humanity but it has delivered a consistent stream of excellent games. So that's something. In the Official Bottomless Hole Alternative Games Awards for 2016™ I look at some of the highlights of the year:
With Brexit, Trump in the White House, the death of David Bowie and the continued success of James Corden, 2016 has made me want to shoot things. Sure I could move to America and shoot people for real, but shooting things via video games seems like much less hassle. Plus I reckon I would be rubbish at shooting a real gun. My arms would get really tired and the noise would give me a headache. After one shot I would have to go for lie down and a Capri Sun.
The new 'Doom' scoops this award with its incessantly violent and overblown combat. The game mostly consists of you walking into rooms and killing everything to death over and over again. But amazingly this never gets boring due the mechanics behind the combat being so tight and well thought-out. It's all about being aggressive and getting up in the faces of the demonic hordes you confront. There is no cover system like in most modern shooters, once you are locked into an arena with an army of demons you have to take the fight to them. Even when you are low of health the game encourages you to be aggressive as enemies that you melee kill are guaranteed to drop health. There is no attempt to tell a meaningful story, it just gives you some guns and lets you figure out the rest. The game rewards you for being gung-ho and aggressive and given the year we have had this has never been more welcome.
Now don't get me wrong I'm not saying that 'Far Cry Primal' was bad game. I just keep forgetting I ever played it. Seriously, when I've going over the games I had played this year in my head I keep on forgetting about it. I mean I'm pretty sure I've played it. My PS4 and my bank account have evidence of this. But I have very few memories of actually playing it despite the fact I only played it in March. There were certainly enjoyable aspects of the game. The pre-historic setting for the game was nice idea, one which I hadn't seen done this way before. I liked that it let you off the leash early on and let you roam free. And any game that lets you befriend a Sabre-toothed Tiger is clearly not bad. But there was nothing particularly remarkable that happened during my journey through it's prehistoric landscapes that particularly grabbed or surprised me. The over-the-top villains that 'Far Cry' has become known for were absent here. The Ubisoft formula of overworld exploration has become a tired and repetitive one to the point of ridicule and 'Primal' did nothing much to change that. I wish I could say more about the game, but then that's the problem, I can't.
This year seems to have been heavily populated by returning franchises. Of course it makes sense for games to have plenty of sequels. As the main attraction for games is (or at least should be) the gameplay, once that template has been established it wouldn't make any sense to not follow it up if it's successful. But this year it seems to have got out of hand and there are very few completely new titles being made. 2016 saw reboots for the 'Doom' and 'Ratchet & Clank' franchises as well as remastered versions of games in the 'Bioshock', 'Assassin's Creed', 'Batman' and 'Elder Scrolls' series. Then there were sequels in the form of 'Dishonored 2', 'Titanfall 2', 'Watch Dogs 2', 'XCOM 2', 'Dark Souls 3', 'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided', 'Battlefield 1', 'Gears Of War 4', 'Dead Rising 4', 'Uncharted 4' and 'Final Fantasy XV'. And there are probably others I've forgotten about. Because of this, any game which isn't tied to an already established series deserves extra kudos in my insignificant opinion.
The award could have gone to either 'Overwatch' or 'Inside'. As you already know because it was in the sub-heading I have given it to 'Inside'. While you could argue it is a sequel of sorts to the developer's previous game 'Limbo' in terms of tone and gameplay, I felt as it was such a unique experience it deserved the award. A twisted and relentlessly bleak piece of work, 'Inside' wormed its way into my head in way which few games do. Less is more in this game with a complete lack of dialogue, sparse soundtrack and muted colours all coming together to paint a claustrophobic fairytale filled a constant feeling of dread. At it's core 'Inside' is a simple puzzle-platformer. The puzzles themselves aren't too complex and won't leave you scratching your head for hours. The game is more concerned with creating a repressive atmosphere, taking dark and unexpected turns throughout its short duration. The less you know about the game going into it the better, but I can assure it has one of the most demented final acts I can recall in gaming.
Oh and 'Far Cry Primal', that's another sequel that was released this year. Why do I keep forgetting that game?
One of the most overlooked aspects of games is allowing players to name the characters, people and creatures they meet on their adventure. Not only does this allow the player to add their own personality on to the game world, but it also allows you to exercise your creative muscles in coming up with the most stupid name possible. 'Pokémon Sun' & 'Moon' versions continue to allow you to name all of the Pokémon you catch, with the caveat of having a 10 character limit and having a pretty vigorous censorship filter.
'XCOM 2' also continued with the legacy of letting you name your doomed soldiers but with more freedom than 'Pokémon'. Not only is there a much more generous character limit but as the game also displays the nationality of your soldier it allows for the player to use racial stereotyping to inform their name-making. My personal favourites from my recent playthrough include the Frenchmen 'Lé Mousse' and naming every German character from my limited GCSE German vocabulary. This included the sniper 'Esist Windig' (translates as 'it is windy') and the tech-specialist 'Lieblings Bibliotech' (favourite library). Personalising your soldiers makes you even more proud when the level-up and become powerful, but also makes it even more heartbreaking when they get choked to death by an alien snake.
But the winner here is 'No Man's Sky' who took the stupid naming to new levels. It allows you to name pretty much everything on your adventure. From the planets and moons you visit, to every new species you find. Even the galaxies themselves can be named. This means that you can theme your naming. For example I themed a planet around the works of Barry Manilow. The planet was called 'Manilow', it's moon was called 'Copacabana' and one of the species I found was called 'Mandy'. I ran out Barry Manilow knowledge after that point. Once you give them that stupid name you are actively rewarded with credits in the game, making it feel worthwhile. Not only that, but in the unlikely event that another player finds your planet they have to deal with that stupid name and can't change it. Ah, ruining other player's immersion, bliss.
It is becoming increasingly easy to find yourself trapped in the hype-cycles of the newest and upcoming releases in the games industry. You end up buying games that you know are probably just going to be decent 8/10 jobs because you feel like you have to be part of the "conversation". Whatever that means. Personally I play games to avoid conversations. The only time I talk about games to actual human beings is when I get drunk and start lecturing people about 'Dark Souls'. I don't go to many parties. Anyway, because of the endless build-up around games it can be easy to ignore the smaller games that release throughout the year. Luckily this year thanks to PS Plus I discovered a gem in the form of 'Furi'.
Consisting almost entirely of boss fights, 'Furi' is a complete sensory overload in the best possible way. The fights are long and gruelling, with each enemy having multiple phases that require you to adapt and change your tactics. You learn no new moves throughout the game, instead being forced to build up your reflexes and reading of the game as the challenges get harder and harder. By the end you will be parrying attacks and dodging bullets in a way you never thought would be possible at the beginning. This is mixed together with a sickly neon art-style and a brilliant throbbing techno soundtrack that makes you feel like there's an illegal rave taking place in your head. The game is simplistic in it's vision but achieves all it sets-out to in giving you a tendon-snapping thrillride.
It wouldn't a pithy end of the year games list with a mention to the Stockholm syndrome inducing 'Dark Souls' series. This year's entry, 'Dark Souls III', was not hardest in the series, or at least had a somewhat normal difficulty curve compared to its predecessors. But it had one particular ace up it's sleeve hidden away in an optional area. The fight with 'The Nameless King' is without doubt the most difficult in the game, and one of the hardest fights in the series. Taking place on top of the clouds of a storm, the two phases are a punishing battle to the death. The first phase is hard enough, fighting him on top of his dragon companion. But that's a walk in the park compared to the second half of the fight. This is mainly due to the amount of health he has and how quickly he can take you down if you make a mistake. One slight delay in putting your shield up or going in for one attack too many means instant death at the hands of his lightning spear. This is a test of endurance and patience more than anything and will leave you gripping your controller harder than an alcoholic grips their bottle at a family Christmas party.
This is another shoot-out between 'Inside' and 'Overwatch'. Near the beginning of 'Inside' (and this sort of spoiler-y) the pig you encounter has a tragic fate laid out in front of him. After trying to ram into you repeatedly it eventually smashes itself against a wall, at which point you have rip it's tail off and use the poor creature as a platform to progress. Typically bleak and cruel for the twisted world of 'Inside', this pig's demise is one of the saddest gaming moments of the year.
But pig of the year goes to Roadhog from 'Overwatch'. Although he is not a character I use much myself (I'm more of a Zenyatta kind of guy) any man-pig biker that uses a bike chain and shotgun combo deserves a mention here. Using him to drop people down the bottomless pit in the stage Ilios Well is one of the most fun things you do in the game. Just look at him. I could spend hours analysing his belly button alone.
Now pedants amongst you may have an issue with me naming 'Rocket League', a game which was released in July 2015, as the game of year but I don't care as it's my list. Quite simply it's the game I've played most this year despite it not having changed much since its release over a year ago. Sure it's had a couple of extra modes added but I've not played half of them. Get me on competitive doubles at any time of the day and I'm a happy man. I could have named 'Overwatch' as my game of the year, 'Dishonored 2' was pretty good, as was 'Inside'. But if you asked me which one game has given me the most joy this year I would point you in the direction of some turbo-powered cars and a big floaty ball.