The illustrious year of 2017 is upon us and a proper moment of reflection is in order; 2017 will be a bountiful year and hopefully deliver a slew of fantastic new titles ripe with limitless potential. All three major parties – being the Big N, Sony, and Microsoft – have their own particularly unique plans for the New Year, each filled to the brim with their own resounding highs and unfortunate lows. Nintendo has an innovative console/handheld hybrid on the horizon, Sony is assertively pushing their bevy of exclusive content throughout 2017 and beyond, and Microsoft suffered an insurmountable blow with the cancellation of Scalebound, which was my most anticipated Microsoft exclusive of 2017. Let us begin with the most pertinent publishing company of the three shall we?
While I was admittedly not as active in the video game blogosphere as I wanted to be, I still managed to virtually consume a superb minutia of content that bestowed 2016 the worthy praise of being an excellent year in gaming. I unquestionably lament how I didn’t write up my anecdotal thoughts on all of these excellent pieces of entertainment, but they impressively boast a bright sheen of quality and have quickly seeped their way into the imminent list of my favourite games of the current generation. I hope my brief praise for each title will atone for the lack of coverage and rectify their notable omission from my site content. While 2016 saw the success of multiple sequels to renowned franchises, it also brought forth the rising popularity of new intellectual properties and independent video games. Intriguing titles such as Firewatch and Oxenfree, which were unfortunately a dollar short of claiming a spot on this list, offered novel variables to the gripping narrative formula that Telltale masterfully weaved through their success of the Walking Dead series. The Last Guardian finally saw the light of day after a grueling nine years in development hell, and while certain aspects felt archaic and downright awful, it was still a worthwhile experience that transcended the traditional perception of spirituality. 2016 also brought in a new entry to my favourite Xbox exclusive series, Gears of War 4 – a by the numbers sequel that simply radiates delight, serving as a polite reminder to the qualities that made the original trilogy such an innovating experience. However, each of the next ten titles transcended trivial expectations, revitalizing the formulaic nature of the old and providing closure to the stories we’ve grown with over the many years. These are the best of the best that 2016 had to offer, simply alleviating the harmonic balance between idiosyncratic personality and gameplay. If your personal pick of 2016 is notably absent from the list, there’s no need for a vendetta of any sort, this simply suggests that I didn’t have the privilege of experiencing said game or I did not enjoy it as much as you did. Now without further ado, these are my top 10 games of 2016.
New COG, old tricks.
Fun and familiar. Upon completing Gears of War 4’s 8-10 hour campaign, those two decisive words constantly reverberated in the back of my mind, evoking a rather ineffable sensation. Gears of War 4, in a lot of ways, is the best entry in the series, as it productively enhances existing elements of the established franchise and polishes them off to a crisp, pristine shine; however, its devotion to refine, instead of reinventing the formula can, at times, result in a rather stagnant experience that strikes serious chords of déjà vu. Its parallelism to the original trilogy is a double-edged sword. Gears of War 4 is an excellent, by the numbers, sequel that may have questionable relevance, but is a fun, engaging experience from start to finish. While it does very little to differentiate itself from its predecessors, and archaic design elements which were fostered in the original back in 2006 are still present a decade later, Gears of War 4 still manages to be a great experience that acts as a simple reminder that it can still hold its own in the modern realm of gaming. Its campaign may be brief and lack the nuanced punch that made the original an excellent class of innovation, but it’s an enjoyable piece of modern entertainment that is paired nicely with an excellent assortment of multiplayer components – Horde 3.0 is an excellent highpoint that lives up to the addictive nature of the series’ legacy. Certain balancing issues that have continuously plagued the Gears of War multiplayer scene are, for some reason, still present in this fourth instalment. Although it’s arguably the safest sequel in the history of gaming, Gears of War 4 is a worthy addition to an excellent series.
As much as I loved my original PlayStation growing up, I can’t help but feel that I truly missed out on some of gaming’s greatest treasures when I skipped out on the Nintendo 64. Seeing as I grew up in the 3D prominence of gaming – with 3D platformers being one of my favourite genres – the N64 had a myriad of golden gems that would cater to my prolific love for jumping and collecting things. The fact that I have just completed Banjo-Kazooie 18 years after its initial release is a sad accomplishment and realization as that should’ve been rectified prior as Banjo-Kazooie, is not only one of my favourite 3D platformers of all time, but is another title that I can slab onto my “favourite video games of all time” list. It’s a nostalgic, yet exquisite, time capsule into a simpler era of gaming that exuded such pristine quality while pursuing new forms of innovation. While its moment to moment gameplay unfortunately shows its age and doesn’t control nearly as well as Nintendo’s iconic plumber, it’s the sum of its parts that stand the test of time and make the titular duo an instant classic.
Kept you waiting, huh?
Metal Gear Online will not be weighed into this review as I primarily focused on the single-player aspect of The Phantom Pain.
The Metal Gear Solid series is a renowned work of video game art that is equally daunting as it is inventive. For many, this beloved franchise paved the way for video game story-telling, perfected the calm yet addictive nature of stealth gameplay, and fostered one of gaming’s greatest heroes, Solid Snake. As someone with an inept ability for the stealth genre of video games, the Metal Gear series never once appealed to my preferences, despite its popularity and unanimous praise. Funnily enough, I completed the entire core Metal Gear Solid series this year and I honestly regret not rectifying my juvenile boycott sooner as the Metal Gear Solid series is an astounding achievement. Kojima’s fifth main and final entry to the Metal Gear series, The Phantom Pain, is a rather obtuse experience as it transcends so many inherent fundamentals of the series while diminishing certain attributes that’ve become synonymous with the idiosyncratic series. Kojima’s first foray into the vast depths of the open world is not only a success but it surpasses the modern status quo for the genre. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a near-perfect gameplay experience that both encourages and compliments your play style, expecting a required level of intelligence and interpretation. This is simply stealth gameplay perfection as The Phantom Pain offers a minutia of different tactical approaches for any foreseeable state of affairs, thus the experience is fluctuated accordingly, never emitting feelings of stagnancy or frustration. Complemented with an excellent and engaging open world to utilize as your own playground of sorts, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a gameplay rich experience that is admittedly addictive and is honestly one of the best open world games I have ever played. Unfortunately, The Phantom Pain’s narrative is unable to match, let alone surpass, the ingenious nature of its gameplay counterpart. What has become an expected component of the Metal Gear Solid series is practically non-existent in The Phantom Pain. Its sense of narrative is sparse – proving to be disappointing at best, deficiently pathetic at worst – its obstructively disjointed by a bizarre and questionable episodic structure and while its gameplay counterpart is filled to the brim with meaningful and engaging content, its core narrative simply feels underdeveloped. However, despite its discrepancies, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain still manages to transcend as a near-perfect experience that is profoundly addicting from start to finish, simply never letting up. Although it may not be my favourite entry in the profound series, that honor belongs to Snake Eater, it is still an absolute favourite of mine and as I previously mentioned, it’s also one of the best open world games to date. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an excellent entry into an already excellent established franchise and is undoubtedly the best game of 2015 that I never played.
Immense quantity for the sake of meaningful quality…
No Man’s Sky will undoubtedly serve as a stern lesson for the entire gaming community moving forward; it’s a clear cut example of excellent ideas wound together into an underwhelming package which unsurprisingly fails to live up to the insurmountable hype. My expectations were relatively shallow to begin with as I honestly could not understand the pure obsession pertaining to developer Hello Games’ latest project; yes, its technical prowess and sheer scope are noteworthy to say the least, but its moment to moment gameplay – what little of it that was brought to light – left much to be desired. Cosmic exploration and a personal sense of discovery is a rather enticing premise on paper, but the gargantuan scope of an expansive world – or universe in the case of No Man’s Sky – is absolutely meaningless if the core gameplay lacks intriguing purpose and doesn’t properly foster a rewarding sense of progression. No Man’s Sky is the literal embodiment of monotony and repetition; its quintillion procedurally generated planets are aesthetically gorgeous and while some planets vary in terms of visual diversity, perilous weather conditions, and collection of wild life and vegetation, each meticulous activity you partake in on one planet is a carbon copy of what you’ll do on the next. While Hello Games were so fixated on constructing a technical marvel that would surpass the scope of the modern competition, they simply forgot to make their game fun in the end. At its core, No Man’s Sky is a resource gathering experience, clearly taking inspiration from Minecraft’s addictive and accessible nature, but is clearly unable to grasp, let alone match, its profound social prominence and sense of ownership. While No Man’s Sky gives you the necessary tools to discover a vast array of different planets, star systems, and unidentified species, what’s the point of discovery if you can’t share that sense of glory with anyone else? For a procedurally generated galaxy with infinite possibility, I’m quite surprised by the empty, lifeless, and uninspired aura the collective package emits. While Hello Games should definitely be commended for the technical achievement that is No Man’s Sky – its sense of scale and technical performance is astounding and unprecedented – their bold new cosmic sandbox is the perfect reminder that bigger isn’t always better.
An absolute dream or nightmare?
Pretension is a fickle element that has slowly seeped its way into the contemporary gaming community, whether if it’s an added spice that caters to your flavour or an intolerable trend that’ll shortly meet its demise. With the rising popularity of the smaller, independent development, video games have reached a level of obscurity and experimentalism that was seldom found in the fostering years of gaming. During the indie development scene’s infancy, Copenhagen based developer Playdead arguably kick-started, at the very least contributed to, the popular indie movement with their atmospherically eerie experience, Limbo. To some, Limbo was an inaugural experience that was equally brilliant as it was obtuse; to others it was a hollow vessel with a high cadence for pretension and a shallow excuse for gameplay. I reside somewhere in between the high praise and the intolerable distain; it was an interesting gaming experience that ultimately forgot to be fun. Playdead’s second effort has been taken by storm, receiving unanimous praise from copious gaming outlets, with critics dishing out perfect scores left, right, and center. After my first brief playthrough, my emotions were rather conflicted as I couldn’t differentiate astonishment from confusion, enjoyment from disappointment. It’s been a little over a week since I concluded the three-hour experience, and after marinating my conflicted thoughts properly, I can safely say that Inside is an excellent game that will definitely not resonate with everyone. Some of you will absolutely adore this abstract gem, some of you will loathe it with a fiery passion, I cannot stress its polarizing nature enough! It’s definitely not the masterpiece that critics are claiming it to be, but it’s most certainly an experience that I immensely enjoyed. Just understand that you’ll be left with more questions than answers once the credits drop, and its rather obtuse ambiguity can be perceived as intriguing at best and pretentious at worst. Lastly, if you didn’t enjoy Limbo in any capacity, then chances are that Inside won’t have the required finesse to sweep your heart. Inside is a haunting experience, that simply dug its claws deep within me and ceased to ever let go.
The best game of 2014 that I never played
Boy oh boy was I a fool to have neglected what is easily an underrated gem of the current generation. Thanks to the consistent reminders and high recommendation from Wizard Dojo, I eventually decided to give Tropical Freeze a slice of my time. While I extensively enjoyed the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo, Diddy’s Kong Quest in particular is quite spectacular, I’ve always felt fairly alienated by its following as for some ineffable reason, I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as the status quo. They are certainly excellent games, do not get me wrong, but they never beguiled me to the extent of others, and while they most definitely left an imprint, I felt an unsatisfied need for something more. Both a controversial and downright ludicrous opinion am I right? Whatever personal gripe that overstayed its welcome or minute element that felt omitted, Tropical Freeze bombastically rectifies all of my personal uncertainties with the series and rightfully fills the void of understanding Donkey Kong Country’s true brilliance. Not only is it a pristine example of level variety and game design, Tropical Freeze is also the most thrilling and exhilarating platformer I have ever played. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze harmoniously merges the frantic, moment-to-moment nature of reactionary platformers and the strategic and methodical tendencies of Super Mario into a seamless masterclass of gameplay, resulting in what is easily the Wii U’s crowning jewel. Tropical Freeze is the best game of 2014 that I never played and is not only my favourite game on Nintendo’s Wii U, but is also a new personal favourite of mine.
Now that E3 2016 is over, we can all take a deep breath and take the time to analyze the enthralling goodness that enraptured our captivation for the past week. While I felt the overall showcase was rather underwhelming in comparison to last year’s E3, there were specific highlights that acted as this year’s saving grace and Sony in particular definitely brought the momentum back as they undoubtedly knocked it out of the park with their press conference. Aside from the excellent re-imagining of the Resident Evil series with Resident Evil VII, the invigorating multiplayer showcase of Battlefield 1, the intriguing permutations of Detroit: Become Human, the melancholic tranquility of The Last Guardian, and the visceral, albeit familiar, gameplay of Gears of War 4, these next five games were my personal favourite showcases at this year’s E3.
Greatness from small beginnings…
Very few experiences are capable of capturing the essence of adventure, let alone doing so with a resounding sense of polish; this honorable achievement in production and execution is conspicuously present in Naughty Dog’s flagship series. The fourth, and arguably final, entry in the series, entitled “A Thief’s End”, is an immaculate culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured into this journey for the past nine years. Both the player and Naughty Dog have grown with these characters for nearly a decade and Naughty Dog appropriately honed in on that premise to create possibly the most personal and melancholic Uncharted experience to date. To close things off, Naughty Dog decided to slowly dig into Drake’s past, providing much needed context, and ultimately closure, for this character who has essentially become an icon to the PlayStation community. While I’d normally advocate the traditional “gameplay over story” mentality, Naughty Dog’s repertoire would be an obvious exception to the rule. Naughty Dog has always excelled in their ability to construct well written characters and the impeccable development present in their latest triumph is further proof of the fact. Their attention to detail, excellent writing, intriguing character development, and production quality are second to none and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is yet another successful notch on Naughty Dog’s impressive belt. While Uncharted 4’s gameplay is unable to match its sheer presentational brilliance, every minute element is pooled together to create a masterful experience that is equally thrilling as it is emotional. With a heavier emphasis on exploration, new implementation of storytelling, one of the greatest Easter eggs in gaming history, and an exceptional ending that mirrors the poignancy of Persona 4, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be the slowest entry in the series, but it’s arguably the best and undoubtedly my favourite. Nathan Drake’s final adventure is a worthy end indeed.