An old soul. A lingering doubt. A man who is more a principled advocate for ‘truth’ than a passionate orator for hasty action. To gaze into his eyes is to understand but to also be lost. A bringer of balance and equality. Richard is an ideal, a construct of the centre. He also plays games.
Well. 2016, then. What a load of shit that was, eh? If the popular thing is to “take back control” and position ourselves as the centre of the universe, perhaps we don’t have to be all jingoistic about it. Angry proles and terrorised Poles are not for me; far more benign fantasies can be lived out in 5 of the most noteworthy interactive experiences of the year.
5) Batman: Arkham VR
Virtual reality picked a good time to finally arrive as a consumer product. Just after Trump’s election, I bought PlayStation VR to escape my impotence in the face of impending global nuclear heat death. Batman was an excellent distraction; the familiar story of Bruce Wayne’s murdered parents was played out through his young eyes, before a sublime sojourn to the Batcave heralded an engrossing detective story through a series of Gotham locales. Utterly convincing as a demonstration of this new technology, Arkham VR gave palpable scale to Batman’s familiar environs and made real the dream of inhabiting our heroes.
4) Quantum Break
The long-awaited time travel drama from Sam Lake and Remedy had some idiosyncrasies, but its unique offer of third person adventure twinned with a high production television mini-series remained a compelling draw. Quantum Break showed us a nefarious corporation that accidentally broke time itself, leaving Jack Joyce and his powers of time manipulation to save the world from a unique kind of apocalypse. Time travel is hard to write well, so the fact that Lake’s story had me going back for an immediate second play (the only game to do so in 2016) speaks well to his achievement. In gameplay terms too, there’s nothing quite like it.
3) The Witness
I don’t think it’s altogether fair to define what a game should be, but playing The Witness prompted the thought that this was a real game. It wasn’t – as is commonly the case – a series of interactions triggering the next scripted event. This was a complex network of puzzles that tested memory, logic and lateral thinking. It’s hard to overstate how cleverly each puzzle informs the solution to the next, building a body of knowledge that makes the previously impossible seem within reach. Building this across an island gave a visual memory to that knowledge and made geographical discovery the reward for success. This is a masterpiece of videogame design.
It tells you something that Titanfall 2 made my shortlist despite me having no meaningful experience with its multiplayer component. It’s also the only sequel on the list, but as the first single player campaign to appear in the Titanfall franchise I’m going to say I don’t really consider it as one. For a franchise known for top tier multiplayer, the campaign was expected to be perfunctory. To universal surprise, Respawn brought us the most inventive, compelling and enjoyable first person shooter campaign of the year. Confident enough to have great ideas and dispose of them after one level, Titanfall feels like an education for the rest of the industry.
The appearance of Inside at the top of this list is a surprise to me. I found myself pushing it higher and higher until there was nothing else left. Now, trying to rationalise this outcome, it couldn’t really have been anything else.
My penchant for platformers is well established, and when they’re as finely honed as this it was always going to be a difficult one to top. Inside pulls the trick of making its controls simple yet absolutely adaptable to every circumstance. When movement matches intent so invisibly, the player’s attention is given over wholly to the experience.
The world that Playdead has created is unusually absorbing, especially considering that we experience it in a 2D plane. Inside’s dark yet exquisitely rendered environments are home to grotesque and sinister threats. Cracking the game’s puzzles feels like a desperate victory over those pervasive dangers, rather than being just the next bit to do in a videogame.
Ultimately it’s the way Inside speaks without uttering a word or writing a line that makes it so special. The story is one of emotional resonance, taking you on a journey of fear, determination, hope, resignation and horror without ever contextualising those feelings in anything so limiting as a traditional plot. Inside does so much with so little; it’s the perfect distilment of what videogames can achieve.