Is he the glue that binds? Is he the ties that grind? Is he a force of control or another element of chaos? Some might call him leader, most would disagree. In a collective he is more a Shepard, his flock a discordant rabble of noise and ego. Throw up your hands and lay yourself low, the end has come. He also plays games.
2016 has been a very busy year for me and BXBGAMES. In February I took over the site and changed a lot of things. Amongst them I made us multi-platform, a decision that has worked out amazingly well (if I do say so myself). But what that means is that I am covering and playing more games than ever and that is both a good and bad thing. The consequence of this is that I write about games a lot less and produce videos a lot more. I must say I miss the writing so while I am sure my ramblings below are substandard compared to many on the team here, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them.
10) Uncharted 4
This is almost on my list by default. I actually bounced off Uncharted 4 about two thirds of the way through. The reason is I wasn’t playing it for coverage on BXB and I shall be honest, the formula wasn’t grabbing me like it used to. I have however come back to it recently and switched on the snap to enemy targeting option so I can get through the combat sections a little quicker. But even with these things in mind the game is still a visual masterpiece, an amazing narrative showcase (for a AAA game) and has probably the best digital acting in any game out right now. It also works as a wonderful end to a stunning franchise. It’s a fabulous achievement and because of that it had to be in my top 10.
The smartest thing Firaxis does with XCOM 2 is its set up. I don’t want to spoil it even though this is a game of the year piece, but it surprised and delighted me in the way it both acknowledges and disregards what has come before. Using this starting point XCOM 2 goes on to be another excellent XCOM game in the same ilk as its predecessor, with just enough new mechanics to satisfy what you expect from a sequel. While it doesn’t ‘wow’ in the same way as the previous instalment everything it does do is excellent and in a world with very few of these types of games on console that’s more than enough to make my GOTY list.
I didn’t despise the original Watch_Dogs like some people. The central idea of an open world I can manipulate through hacking a city scale operating system was fun enough that I could mostly ignore the terrible protagonist that was Aiden Pearce. But all of those negatives are mostly gone in its sequel. Aiden is replaced with Marcus a smart young man and hacking expert who is your way into the far more vibrant and engaging city of San Francisco and the denizens that inhabit it. The gameplay is also thankfully changed up with the inclusion of drones on the ground and in the air that really help you tackle any given situation in a myriad of often hilarious ways. Sure you can run around gunning down everyone, but why would you when you can hack and set up your foes in far more interesting ways. Oh and a special shout out to the awesome clothing options found in this game, my Marcus was always super sharp!
Forza has a long and storied history at this point. Being one of the two premium driving brands on consoles this Xbox exclusive (to console) series has really gotten into its stride this generation. The Horizon off shoot with it’s more arcadey open world is where driving thrives for me. This time around the setting of Australia makes the coupling of amazing cars and beautiful but diverse settings really come alive with thrilling speed. I loved every moment I spent at the festival this year and Playground Games will be hard pressed to beat it with any subsequent instalments.
Who would have thought another entry in a B tier open world franchise would be as compelling as Mafia 3 turned out to be. I never much cared for it’s predecessors but Hanger 13 did a stunning job with this sequel. Transporting the franchise into a New Orleans-alike city, setting it in the 60’s and making the central protagonist black in a time and place that didn’t like that much, genius. From its compelling narrative framing devices to it’s fun driving and visceral shooting mechanics Mafia 3 excels. It draws you in, shows you an ugly world and asks you to give it what it deserves through violence and vengeance. I loved every minute.
SUPERHOT. SUPERHOT… SUPERHOT. Sorry, it had to be done. It’s a joke as old as this game, but it’s infectious and just can’t be ignored. SUPERHOT is easily the most stylish game to come out this year. With it’s minimalist almost unfinished visuals and narrative framing device that revels in ancient chat interfaces and ASCII art, SUPERHOT is a game that speaks to gamers on a very base level. It’s gameplay is a shooter puzzle hybrid executed flawlessly and with such panache that you can’t help but be drawn in. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you feel like a total badass in almost every moment as you work out how best to fell your foes like Neo from the Matrix.
Titanfall 2 is really the ultimate shooter package. Many were unhappy that Titanfall shipped without a single player campaign and frankly if that campaign would have been half as good as the one found in it’s sequel I can see why. The story of Titanfall 2 is pretty much irrelevant, but the moments it allows are exemplary. Once it finds its feet after an hour or so things start to get crazy as idea after idea spew forth from Respawn in a sometimes haphazard way. Sure the levels don’t always make total sense together, but what you get to do in them never fails to feel glorious. The combination of excellent combat both in and out of the Titan and mobility that makes Mirrors Edge look like amateur hour is incredibly impressive. Then we have perhaps the best multiplayer from this year. It’s fast, fun and accessible. Perhaps there are too many modes, but free maps, and a fairly substantial player base make up for that.
They got Olly Moss to do the art for a game? Who, what, why and when?!
When Campo Santo got Olly Moss to lead the art direction for Firewatch I knew I had to play this game. Thankfully beyond the stunning look and gorgeous style that oozes from every moment, Firewatch is also a joy to ‘play’. Well it’s a joy to experience I suppose, as a walking simulator you don’t do a great deal of playing, but you do get to soak in Henry and Delilah’s growing paranoia induced by the wonderful isolation of the Wyoming wilderness. It is the interactions and dialogue between these two people (I say people and not characters because they feel that real) that the player controls that sets Firewatch above most other games. Perhaps the ending could have been done better, but the journey and the masterful way Campo Santo manipulate the player throughout deserves recognition.
Let me admit a great shame, I never completed Limbo, Playdead’s previous indie hit. The world just didn’t grab me. INSIDE is the complete opposite though. From the moment I first entered this world to it’s last breathless moments I was hooked. I completed the game in one sitting unable to pull myself away from the Xbox. Engrossed, enthralled, disgusted and delighted the journey of INSIDE is a wonderfully polished and perfectly executed one. The story is open to interpretation and the environmental puzzles are perfectly judged, not too hard but always challenging and rewarding when you beat one. This combination of engaging and yet dialogue free narrative, amazing environmental design and polished to perfection puzzling means Inside sits near the top of my list. Oh and that’s even without me mentioning the jaw dropping final act! When this came out (at the time exclusive to Xbox One), I said you should buy and Xbox to play it and I meant every word.
I got it wrong. When I reviewed Doom earlier in the year I scored it 8/10 in our now defunct scoring system. While looking at Doom critically I found the multiplayer a little lacking and didn’t think it was doing enough new things. Bullshit! Yeh the multiplayer is tacked on and kinda crap, but my god that campaign! I have thought about no game this year more than Doom. I have grown to utterly love it’s single player offering. When I am not playing it I want to play it, again and again and again. It has surprisingly excellent characters, it is well written and it totaly understand its subject matter. The moment to moment action loop is without equal this year, the constant speed, the juggle of glory kill into glory kill as you propel yourself through a level splattering yourself and the environment in gore. It’s pretty much first person shooter heaven (or hell). I tip my hat to id, they somehow brought a franchise languishing in ignominy back and surprised everyone at just how excellent it could be in 2016. It is both inspired by and an homage to the original game and yet feels completely modern. It’s some kind of black magic and I love it!