Every year, at this point, we get a lot of “Top 10” articles by a vast number of websites concerning practically everything possible.
Top 10 vegetables.
Top 10 secondary characters in ugly movies.
Top 10 “Top 10s”. And so on.
Really annoying, but also amusing to some extent. I obviously couldn’t miss this opportunity to jump on the train of thoughts and have my say, so here’s my “not-exactly-a-top-10” of 2016. Also because it won’t include 10 games.
Rules are simple: games I played and completed (where applicable), released in 2016, worth mentioning for some reason. In random order.
When a friend told me about its concept, I couldn’t help myself and asked my editor in chief for a review copy. It was the best decision I could ever make as a junior reviewer. In Tyranny, you play as a villain in a world where a Dark Lord – named Kyros – rules with the weapons of fear and violence. This ruthless RPG does not impose an evil conduct, but allows the player to walk a path of growth that could lead to any solution. You want to fight the establishment? Can do. You want to rise as a new overlord? Why not. You want to be a loyal slave of the system? Go ahead. I found this to be highly in contrast with (too) many games that let the player experience the narrative always in the same way despite what character she/he decides to play (Dragon Age, to name one I played recently). More importantly, Tyranny is worth mentioning because of its approach to the banalization of evil in digital media: choices have always a weight, and the player has to face consequences of her/his decisions. Exploring the concept is worth another post on its own, so let’s continue with the list!
The first Dishonored instantly became a classic. For me, it was one of the best games I ever played – due to personal taste, mostly. Its setting has unlimited potential, the narrative was amazing, the Chaos System was well implemented, and the level design left me speechless. I was almost literally starving for a sequel, so when Arkane announced this second iteration in the series I decided to trust them and preorder the game. Since then, I stayed away from spoilers of any sorts: didn’t watch trailers, didn’t peek at gameplay videos, etc. I wanted my experience with Dishonored 2 to be as “pure” as possible, without any interference from the outside (*wink wink*). Dishonored 2 didn’t let me down at all. Despite a plot that shows some redundancy with the first game, its design took a step up not delivering just “more of the same” but improving here and there to deliver a rewarding and fulfilling experience to the player. Its best feature, for me, is the level design: it allows the player to traverse the game in so many different (and personal) ways that, especially in two specific levels, deserves an applause. No, more: a standing ovation. Here‘s an example of what I mean (minor spoilers in the link). Just fantastic design.
No Man’s Sky
This game is why I didn’t entitle this post “Top 10”. No Man’s Sky was a surprise to me in many ways, and I decided to include it in the list for both some good and bad reasons. Let’s start with the former: as a fan of PCG, I found this experiment to be as ambitious as extraordinary. The amount of content it generates procedurally is just…amazing. I believe that anyone who tried to code, program, or create a project including PCG has to acknowledge No Man’s Sky. Yet, Hello Games’ last fatigue won’t be remembered for its accomplishments. It represents a new low in gaming history with regards to hype and marketing. If it was a book, its title would be “how to NOT promote your game”. Everyone has responsibilities in this mess: devs, publishers, and press all created a huge amount of expectations that the game could not live up to, to say the least. This hype influenced in a very negative way the evaluation of a project that, in its own, is great and amusing.
Man, I don’t even know where to start with this one. I just love it. Art design, gameplay, mechanics, dynamics…every element in Darkest Dungeon contributes to deliver a frustrating, cruel, ruthless experience that explores (imho) adventuring how it should have really been. Poor planning and desperate choices lead the characters to certain death, forcing the player to step back and restart from scratch. So many times over and over again. With a solid gameplay and a simple, yet clever, artistic direction (the narrator is extraordinary) it delivers what it promises, as simple as that. It’s not the perfect game, though: the randomness behind some main mechanics is understandable, but probably too much punishing for many players. However, it’s also appreciable how Red Hook Studios alimented its flame in the dark, continuing to release content and fixing problems way after the game was officially released.
The Magic Circle
I know, I know: it was released in 2015, but I played the Gold Edition for PS4. However, The Magic Circle is a game where the player has to complete an unfinished project, stuck at 20 years of programming, and publish it. Behind mechanics that recall action-adventures and puzzles, it explores many layers of game design and game studies with actually a good level of maturity. Its satire is perhaps too harsh and sassy, yet delivers a quite interesting view on the “behind the scenes”. It also include some very interesting mechanics, which allow the player to “recode” some elements of the game in order to solve the said puzzles with a good dose of lateral thinking. While playing it I felt the urge to discuss its implications with someone, obviously starting with Huizinga’s work the title refers to. I promised myself I would give it another playthrough someday, just to write down some notes and maybe write words about it.
Probably one of the biggest events of 2016, the release of Pokémon GO is worth a bunch of words because of its consequences on social behavior all around the globe. This mobile title set a new standard for handheld gaming, but more importantly it generated a mass event that altered people’s perception of video games, and also led governments to take quick answers to problems caused by it. With regards to the latter, I’ve witnessed entire families, groups, and individuals interact with each other using Pokémon GO as an excuse to socialize – more, the game became, for many, a reason to go out. Meet friends. Walk around, doing exercise. It was – on its own – a cultural shock that influenced both western and eastern Countries, enforcing new laws and renewing the attention to the use of cellphones during other activities (driving, mostly). Observing how people reacted to Pokémon GO was amazing and worrisome at the same time.
The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian is also the last game I played (and completed) in 2016. I didn’t really know what to expect, but after all my experience with this wonderful looking game was a delusion. Despite its magnificent art and level design, Trico’s incredible animations, and melancholic narrative, I will remember The Last Guardian as a case similar to No Man’s Sky. To some extent, both titles built their fortune (or misfortune) on expectations, hype, fan bases. And both titles could not live up those expectations, failing. In different measure, of course, yet failing. Fumito Ueda’s game is, as said, wonderful to look. It delivers an experience that aims to stimulate specific emotions, but it is frustrated by an ancient gameplay, with rusty mechanics that squeak with today’s standards. I believe this is a game born old, an experiment just like No Man’s Sky. So it shocked me to see how many people (game analysts, expert journalists, players) worshiped it, acclaiming it as a spectacular success and closing both eyes to its deficiencies. Talk about two weights and two measures…
However, this is it: a list of interesting games and probably uninteresting thoughts that I wanted to share with the world.
Expect to read more of me in 2017, revamping this blog is among my good intentions for the new year.
That’s all for 2016, over.